22 May 2010

Kim might be responsible?

There are unconfirmed reports that US intelligence believes Kim Jong-il is responsible for the attack on the Cheonan. It says that it is based on the internal dynamics of the state, rather than hard evidence, but they believe that the sinking was intended to help shore up the succession of Kim's son.

I don't buy the logic, but I'll admit to not having access to the same classified material. The idea is that standing up to the West will reestablish the strength of the Kim image, and help the son take power. Moreover, there is some evidence that Kim Jong-il congratulated the

If so, it might well make the Kims the dumbest dynasty on Earth. Would it be worth it to risk war with the greatest naval powers in the world, to insure that your son takes the throne?

21 May 2010

North Korea threatens war?

A war with North Korea would not be a picnic for the US or South Korea, but it would be absolutely suicidal for North Korea to go through with it. The forces of the US/ROK alliance are vastly better trained, and not remotely malnourished (link is in Korean, I had to use a Google translator). Moreover, the US is not using WWII era tanks and equipment.

At this point, I'm most worried about the possibility of miscalculation, particularly by a low-level North Korean military official (which strikes me as the most likely cause for the Cheonan sinking). All signs point to the breakdown of order in North Korea, and it would be very easy for someone to escalate it even further.

Fortunately, it's not likely to happen the other way. Here's hoping that the US and RoK can keep this from blowing up worse.

Track of the Day

I haven't seen Glee yet, but this made me very happy. I love the song, and I love Neil Patrick Harris.


20 May 2010

Fighting in Madagascar

I think just about everyone has positive feelings for Madagascar, if only because of the (not very realistic) movies. But, sadly, the political crisis there that began in January of last year has continued, and now there is open fighting in the streets of Antananarivo between different factions of the security forces.


One question I have, and I cannot find anywhere, is whether the leader of the government forces (Col. Richard Ravalomanana) is related to the ousted President (Marc Ravalomanana). The dissidents seem to be in favor of Marc Ravalomanana, or at least against the man who deposed him (Andy Rajoelina).

In terms of broader implications, there probably are not many. Madagascar is rather isolated, and it is unlikely that the unrest there will spread to any neighbors. However, I hope that the upcoming elections offer a way for all sides to stand down, but the past does not suggest that it will. Marc Ravalomanana won election that way, and was deposed by those who were upset. If Rajoelina's side does not win the election (Rajoelina himself is not running), another coup could happen.

We'll have to wait and see.

The Rand Paul Civil Rights Act Meltdown

If anyone missed all of this yesterday, here's a pretty good summary:

Another mass attack in China

This time, it was against university students.

As someone who's been to China, this is a little on the bizarre side. University students were once held in high esteem, and it was everyone's goal to send their kid to university. It was a sign of being an intellectual, and worthy of praise. That a group of 10 men would attack students in a university is extremely troublesome.

Moreover, the degree to which social cohesion is fraying in China will likely lead to more draconian efforts to create social cohesion, i.e. more human rights abuses. In particular, censorship of media is about to get a lot worse, and expect more hacks into emails of those who speak up.

19 May 2010

QOTD

Senator John Kerry, in a Senate hearing on the new START:

During the question-and-answer period, Sen. Jim DeMint, a first-term Republican from South Carolina, who's up for re-election this year, said he found it "frightening" that the Russians believe there's a relationship between offensive and defensive nuclear forces.

The committee's chairman, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., patiently noted, "There is a relationship." If offensive forces are cut and defensive forces go up, "you can obliterate one party's sense of deterrence." This, he said, is "common sense."

DeMint said, "But you're agreeing with me." Don't we want to expand our defenses so that we can obliterate Russia's offensive capability?

Kerry, a bit nonplussed, replied, "No."

High Modernist Sim Dystopia


I find this video interesting but slightly disturbing. Some guy created the "perfect" SimCity city through meticulous planning, but it ended up like this:

...no one is leaving or coming into the city. Population growth is stagnant. Sims don’t need to travel long distances, because their workplace is just within walking distance. In fact they do not even need to leave their own block. Wherever they go it’s like going to the same place...

There are a lot of other problems in the city hidden under the illusion of order and greatness: Suffocating air pollution, high unemployment, no fire stations, schools, or hospitals, a regimented lifestyle – this is the price that these sims pay for living in the city with the highest population. It’s a sick and twisted goal to strive towards. The ironic thing about it is the sims in Magnasanti tolerate it. They don’t rebel, or cause revolutions and social chaos. No one considers challenging the system by physical means since a hyper-efficient police state keeps them in line. They have all been successfully dumbed down, sickened with poor health, enslaved and mind-controlled just enough to keep this system going for thousands of years. 50,000 years to be exact. They are all imprisoned in space and time.


via Chris Blattman

The Rand Paul Revolution Will Not Be Televised, or Possess Basic Manners



















Stay classy, Rand.

18 May 2010

Chinese social tension

This past week, almost every day I've seen another report of some kind of massive, crazy attack in China.

Things like this happen in the US occasionally, but I've never seen such an onslaught like this even in the US. Violent outbreaks are extremely common in China, such as when workers rioted over firings, killing members of management. In fact, a Google search for "factory riot China" shows so many it boggles the mind.

What does this mean for China's rise as a global power? Well, if the people are so cavalier about killing each other, it does show a certain willingness to be aggressive in international politics. However, it also shows that, despite all the efforts of the government to create a "harmonious society," it is far from having done so.

I cannot fathom how a state with such rampant violence will be able to continue its march to the future. Yes, the US is violent, but this really shows a certain amount of common insanity that may even be spreading. My first impulse is to blame the repression of the state, but I can't say for sure. I would love to see any research that has been done in this area.

17 May 2010

QOTD

From Justice John Paul Stevens' concurring opinion in Graham vs. Florida:

While JUSTICE THOMAS would apparently not rule out a death sentence for a $50 theft by a 7-year-old . . ., the Court wisely rejects his static approach to the law. Standards of decency have evolved since 1980. They will never stop doing so.

16 May 2010

Track of the Day

All of my metal icons are dropping dead. Dio, you will rock on forever.



RE: North Korean collapse

Robert Farley has some interesting thoughts about the same Minxin Pei piece I linked to earlier. In particular, he has some interesting thoughts about the German analogue:

The attitudes of Seoul and Beijing would be particularly important in this respect; the health of a post-Kim North Korea would be greatly affected by China’s willingness to underwrite the regime, and by South Korea’s approach to manifesting claims on Korean national identity. In the German case, the Russians had no interest in continuing to prop up the Berlin regime, and West Germany was happy to advance the claim that it was the only legitimate German national regime.

What is interesting to me is the way that North Korea has gone about trying to claim that South Koreans are no longer even really Korean. Will the people of North Korea allow a southern takeover, if they think of South Koreans as non-Korean?

13 May 2010

Update on Thai protesters

A Thai general, aligned with the "Red Shirt" protesters, has apparently been shot. Snipers seem to be part of the overall "security forces" that were sent to blockade the protesters. There is no acknowledgement or explanation for why Gen. Seh Daeng would have been targeted, but the army has acknowledged the presence of the snipers.

A little research shows why he might have been a target, though. It appears that "Seh Daeng" (real name: Khattiya Sawasdipol), however, has a long history of refusing orders from the government and was even stripped of his rank and has even met with ousted Prime Minister Thaksin, who is wanted on (possibly trumped-up) corruption charges. He has also been accused of leading a group of armed men who attacked other soldiers last month.

So far, the protesters are standing firm, but there are also reports of explosions in Bangkok. This situation looks to get far worse before it gets better.

This is a big issue for the US because Thailand has long been our strongest ally in the region, and it already has one insurgency in the far south. If Thailand collapses entirely, it will set back US interests in the region dramatically. We have relationships with other ASEAN members, but the only other ASEAN major ally is the Philippines, which also has an ongoing insurgency and cannot help us with issues on the peninsula. My fingers are crossed that this finally blows over, but it is looking ugly now.

Thailand is doing something right

The ongoing crisis in Thailand is getting worse, but fortunately the Thai government has opted not to overreact by cutting off all supplies to the area where the protesters are.

I'm not particularly enamored with the protesters, or with the way that Thai politics have basically degenerated into different groups paralyzing the capital, taking turns bringing the country to a halt. Moreover, the protesters have turned down an offer of early elections, which is about the most generous offer the government is likely to make. I have no real sympathy for them or their cause, even if there was some nobility to it once.

However, this extreme measure by the government would have done nothing to bring the problems to an end, and instead would have been a horrifying escalation. Moreover, it would have inflamed sympathy towards these protesters and badly hurt the people living in the areas about them. Here's hoping this moment of level-headedness spreads.

Immediate edit: Never mind, the Thai army is moving in with armored vehicles to isolate the protesters after all.

12 May 2010

Korean collapse

Minxin Pei, a well-known scholar on East Asian affairs, has an article up at the Diplomat making the case for the likely collapse of the Kim regime during the upcoming succession.

Minxin's case is built on the fact that no family dictatorship has ever succeeded into the third generation, and the circumstances in North Korea don't bode well for a precedent breaker here. Rising resentment, Kim basically begging abroad for money, and a military that has been starving for years do not inspire confidence that the regime will continue. Moreover, the complete failure of the attempted monetary reform shows that the security services that do exist will not squash a full-on riot.

The question then becomes how long will Kim hold out? His health has been going for years, and yet he is still alive. He's 70 years old, and has diabetes and has suffered at least one debilitating stroke. It cannot be too long until it happens; hopefully, the region will have a plan in place.

(One quibble with Minxin's piece: The US and South Korea are both taking this problem seriously, and have begun discussions about that very likelihood.)

Mutant Bugs Near Nuclear Power Plants

I know what you're thinking, but it's not that bad. A swiss artist has cataloged the mutations of insects near nuclear power plants. The mutations aren't very extreme. Still, I thought power plants didn't leak any radiation.

New Addition to the Axis of Evil

Israeli's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has added Syria to former president George W. Bush's Axis of Evil. In a speech in Tokyo he told reporters that Syria, North Korea, and Iran are cooperating to spread weapons of mass destruction. Last December, an aircraft traveling from North Korea to Iran was seized in Bangkok and was found to contain 35 tons of weapons including rocket propelled grenades and SAM components. Mr. Lieberman cited this incident as evidence against Syria, saying that the weapons were going to be smuggled by Iran to Syrian-supported groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.

This incident highlights a pet peeve of mine. The term WMD's has evolved quite a bit over the years. Personally, I think the term is used way too often and its definition is absurdly broad. IEDs are considered weapons of mass destruction. Large caliber rifles are WMDs. Any definition that puts pipe bombs and nuclear missiles in the same category is on the fast track to uselessness. Policymakers use the term for political leverage whenever weapons they don't like get used by people they don't like. Its become vacuous and without the rhetorical efficiency that it had back when George W. Bush was president, when everyone thought that it meant nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons (even if legally it included a lot more).

In related news, Israel and the Palestinians concluded their first round of indirect talks over the weekend. It's been almost a year and a half since the two sides have engaged in any negotiations. The current stumbling block that is inhibiting progression to direct talks is the issue of Israeli settlements. Israel is continuing to build settlements in East Jerusalem, the site that the Palestinians want as their future capital.

Oh Mugabe, You Lovable Scamp

“‘If we could work with members drawn from the Rhodesia front that oppressed us, what was there to prevent us from working with him?’ Mr. Mugabe asked, laying his hand on Mr. Tsvangirai’s arm.

Mr. Tsvangirai, who has survived at least two assassination attempts in Zimbabwe, remained inscrutable and for several seconds, the room fell silent. Mr. Mugabe only smiled broadly.

“This young fellow… of mine,’ he added, patting his arm. He coaxed another laugh from Mr. Tsvangirai and the audience.”


Via.

10 May 2010

Track of the Day

Lena Horne has died today, at 92. It is not much of a tragedy when one who's had such a rich life passes, but it still makes me sad. For those who have never heard her:


09 May 2010

Iran update

It's difficult for me to tell if the recent events relating to Iran's nuclear program are really critical elements that signify a possible breakthrough, or are just more of the same bluff and bluster that has characterized much of the negotiations over the past months. Last Wednesday, the United States and the other permanent members of the UN Security Council issued a joint statement stating their commitment to the NPT and urged all non-signatory countries with nuclear programs to accede to the treaty as non-nuclear weapons states.

There has been some talk that the Obama administration may be adjusting the US's tacit acceptance of Israel's nuclear program, and seeing it as an intractable stumbling block to negotiations with Iran. Israel, not surprisingly, has not recognized any change in its relationship with the United States.

Also of note is the progress that Brazil and Turkey have made mediating a resolution between Iran and the West. Iran has agreed "in principal" to a Brazil-Turkey fuel swap proposal that would involve Iran trading 3.5% enriched uranium for 20% enriched uranium for use in Tehran's medical research reactor.

I can't help but get excited about events like these. They make me think that a mutually beneficial resolution might actually be feasible. However, I am pretty sure that the level of trust needed to conclude any resolution between Iran and the United States is lacking.

I usually do not like drawing comparisons between Iran and Iraq, but I think there is a strong similarity between the weapons inspections that were carried out prior to the Iraq invasion, and the current push for IAEA inspectors in Iran. The US did not trust that Saddam Hussein was not manipulating the inspectors, and Iraq did not have any assurances that the US would keep its promise not to invade if it gave up any weapons that it had. Whether or not Iraq possessed chemical or biological agents was beside the point: once the US made a commitment to invade Iraq based on a condition that it could never verify with any certainty, the administration was stuck between carrying out its threat or backing down and losing credibility.

The Obama administration has taken pains to avoid the appearance that it is even considering invading Iran, but it is still suffering from the same problem the Bush Administration had with Iraq: if Iran and the US cannot trust each other to abide by any agreement they reach, then negotiations will always break down when they come to commitment and verification mechanisms. Whether or not Iran actually has a nuclear weapons program is just as irrelevant as whether or not chemical and biological agents were in Iraq. If the US cannot trust Iran to abide by the NPT, then any inspections and negotiations are meaningless.

However, there is a way out of this problem and the Obama administration knows it: unilateral commitment. If one party decides to take on a burden in order to show that it is committed to a deal, it will signal to the other party that they should do the same if they are truly interested in a resolution. The US's recent change in its nuclear posture is a good start. It shows that the US is truly committed to nonproliferation and disarmament. Increased pressure on Israel to join the NPT will also go a long way toward showing Iran that the US is serious. Now would be a good time for Iran to make some accommodations, but if they keep holding war games then that warm, fuzzy optimism I had earlier will quickly evaporate.

Slim, Frosty: what are your thoughts and opinions on the Iran nuclear talks?

08 May 2010

It seems that the Obama administration is being pressured to, at the very least, abide by the Ottawa Treaty, even if it doesn't sign the treaty itself. Of course, conservatives and some Pentagon officials are aghast, screaming that doing so would weaken this country in the event of war, particularly if war broke out on the Korean Peninsula.




I find the argument over land mines fascinating, particularly because I just watched a documentary about Sherman's march to the sea, which had some of the first land mines ever used. The Confederates, desperate to stop Sherman, had planted "torpedoes" in his path, and Sherman considered them such a gross violation of the laws of war that he felt justified in using Confederate prisoners as minesweepers. (That ended the practice pretty quickly.)

More importantly, in the US's two most recent wars, there have been no place for land mines. Land mines are a relic; they are the ultimate tool for ground control, but are completely antithetical to any form of population support or suppression. In Korea they might see some limited use in slowing down an oncoming Northern invasion, but they would have zero utility in just about any other conflict.


The ubiquity of images like the above means that the US can get some real traction and support for even the most modest of moves, such as agreeing not to use them while still not signing or ratifying the treaty. Hell, even if the US agrees not to use them anywhere but Korea, or say that it would not use them but would allow its allies (hint, hint, ROK) to do so, it would greatly help the US image. There are a number of treaties like this (the Rights of Children, anyone?), but this (due to the Nobel Prize 13 years ago and other reasons) is probably the most high profile.

Here's hoping that the administration pushes this through.

05 May 2010

Picture of the Day

























From here.

Ethiopia and Eritrea Still Not BFFs
























Via Sahel Blog, it looks like the two countries that fought one of the more significant interstate wars of the 90s and early oughts are back at each other's throats.

Ethiopia has elections coming up later this month (which aren't expected to particularly free or fair) and is accusing its rival to the north of attempting to destabilize the country in the run up to those elections. The government claims that "Eritrean agents" were behind a bomb that went off in Adi Haro this past weekend and that Eritrea is supporting anti-Ethiopian activity by both the Oromo Liberation Front, an Ethiopia-based ethnic nationalist group, and the notorious Somali Islamist group, al-Shabab.

Meanwhile, the Eritrean regime is now under fire from insurgent groups itself, including the fairly awesomely named Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization, that are based in and receive support from Ethiopia.

This new round of disputes between the two states seems to closely resemble the long-running (and recently ended, tentatively) Chad-Sudan feud, where each side supported anti-government rebels against the other.

Terror in Times Square! Some Initial Thoughts


So, a few things that I've noticed or been surprised by in all of the reports coming out on the guy who tried to bomb Times Square:

1) When the Pakistani Taliban initially claimed responsibility for the attack, I scoffed. After all, the TTP is a local group based in the tribal areas with parochial concerns that had focused all of its are against the Pakistani government in the past. I was wrong.

It looks like the TTP has "internationalized" due to the presence of Al Qaeda in its stomping ground and, I would presume, because of the US drone war. Of course, if Shahzad did have connection to the TTP, it's still unclear whether the group's role in the attempted attack was operational or simply motivational. This is speculation, but I wouldn't be surprised if Shahzad's radicalization resulted at least in part from anger over US attacks in Pakistan, since he had been such a model US citizen up until recent years.

This is not to "blame the victim," but simply to recognize the phenomenon that Robert Wright has pointed to--that invading or otherwise attacking Muslim countries is going to result in some blowback. Nidal Malik Hassan was motivated by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is speculation that Najibullah Zazi may have been motivated by the drone war. The double agent who bombed the CIA base in Khost was angry over US support for Israel in the Gaza War (Operation Cast Lead).

None of this is a direct comment on the propriety of these policies (although they should be vigorously questioned), but simply an acknowledgment that there are "side effects" to foreign policy decisions, and that these should be included in the cost-benefit analysis.

2) As Armchair Generalist has so eloquently pointed out, the fact that Shahzad is being charged with attempted use of WMD is patently ridiculous. If a couple cans of gas and some fireworks can constitute a WMD, then the term has gone far beyond jumping the shark and descended into parody. Here's the federal statute in question.

3) According to the FBI, Shahzad was initially interrogated without being Mirandized under a "public safety exception." I didn't know that such an exception existed. It would seem to render most of the objections to Mirandizing terror suspects in the name of sniffing out impending attacks and other intelligence gathering purposes moot. After the FBI agents determined that there were no impending threats related to Shahzad, he was Mirandized and treated like other suspects (and continued cooperating).

04 May 2010

Let's Go Suns!


AnthonyS at Alterdestiny points out that the Phoenix Suns, the NBA team that I am, incidentally, pulling for in the playoffs since the Mavericks' early exit in the first round, have come out as a team against the draconian new immigration law in Arizona:

In general, people in the sports world keep their political leanings to themselves. Sure, there are a few guys who regularly speak out on political issues, but for the most part that's considered bad business. As Michael Jordan put it, "Republicans buy shoes too." That's why what the Phoenix Suns are doing is so amazing.

The team will be wearing its "Los Suns" jerseys for Wednesday night's Game 2 against the San Antonio Spurs "to honor [the] Latino community and the diversity of our league, the state of Arizona, and our nation." Awesome.

The decision to wear the jerseys came from way up the corporate ladder, as team owner Robert Sarver suggested the team wear their Noche Latina alternates.


Star Canadian point guard and former 2-time league MVP (who also spoke out against the Iraq War) had this to say about the decision:

I think it's fantastic...I think the law is very misguided. I think it's, unfortunately, to the detriment of our society and our civil liberties. I think it's very important for us to stand up for things we believe in. As a team and as an organization, we have a lot of love and support for all of our fans. The league is very multicultural. We have players from all over the world, and our Latino community here is very strong and important to us.


I'm gonna be rooting for Los Suns even harder now! This may also be a good PR move the team, given the strong Democratic lean of NBA fans.

03 May 2010

Track of the Day

Just finished watching the latest episode of American Experience, "Roads to Memphis," on the assassination of King and have this song on my mind.



The last American Experience, on My Lai, was also very good.

ULC on Twitter!







Follow the blog that made fanny pack Kyrgyz guy famous on Twitter.

Taiwan doesn't need the US?

In a statement that has already called for numerous additions and modifications, the President of Taiwan has said that, in the event of war with China, Taiwan will not ask for US aid.

A Cabinet spokesman (Johnny Chiang) has since clarified that if the US wants to help in that case, Taiwan would not refuse, and Taiwan will continue to seek advanced weaponry from the US.

Even with that, it's still a bizarre statement. It seems to validate the Chinese view that Taiwan is a part of its sovereign territory, and that the whole issue over its governance is indeed an internal one that no other country should be involved in. I fully believe that Taiwan should form better relations with China, and that the most likely outcome is either China collapsing under its own issues or a peaceful unification under terms similar to Hong Kong's. Either way, it is better for Taiwan to not be a target.

However, I hope the Taiwanese government has somehow run this idea by the US government. So much of the tension between the US and China (though by no means all of it) is based around the US security guarantee of Taiwan. If that is to be considered obsolete, we should know about it.

The Simpsons Do Nuclear Scares and the Surveillance State

I'm not sure if anyone watches The Simpsons anymore. I know the quality has gone down from its peak, but it's still better than most of the other stuff on the teevee. Anyway, last night's episode, "To Surveil With Love," poked fun at nuclear alarmism and surveillance in the name of national security. My favorite line probably came from Mayor Quimby when they were holding a vote on whether to establish widespread camera surveillance in a vote at city hall.

Quimby: All those in favor say aye!

*everyone but Lisa says aye*

Quimby: All those opposed say I...hate America!

Lisa: Aye...umm...

02 May 2010

Greek Defense Spending


From the AP:















Greece's defense minister on Thursday promised "colossal" cuts in military operating costs to help the debt-ridden country emerge from its financial crisis and speed up plans to modernize the armed forces.

Defense Minister Evangelos Venizelos Greece is aiming to slash operating costs by up to 25 percent in 2010 from 2009, instead of the planned reduction of 12.6 percent listed in this year's budget.

"That is a colossal amount, reaching the margin of our operating needs," Venizelos said, insisting that the cuts were not a direct result of the Greek debt crisis, nor would affect the strategic balance with historic rival Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to visit Athens next month.

Greece remains at odds with neighbor and NATO ally Turkey over the divided island of Cyprus and boundaries in the Aegean Sea but has improved ties over the past decade.

Venizelos did not give details of how the cuts would be achieved, saying only that results of a major armed forces review would be outlined in "several weeks".


Um, yeah, I'm not really buying the second bolded part.

Prior to all of this, Greece had the highest military spending in the EU as a percentage of GDP and the second highest in NATO, behind only the US.

It will be interesting to see the effects of these drastic cuts on the military balance between Greece and Turkey and, more broadly, on their conflict over Cyprus. Turkey should feel a little more secure as a result of these cuts and will likely be able to make some of its own. However, as a bigger and more important country, Turkey's security interests are generally broader than those of its rival, so it may not be able to cut as drastically because of other internal and external threats.

The Type of Trenchant Socio-Political Commentary Only the Local Sean Hannity Wannabe Can Provide

Apparently some moronic right-wing radio host from here in Kentucky thought it would be hi-larious to get a bunch of his drones to drive around in their trucks and SUVs to stick it to the liberals and enviro-Nazis on Earth Day. You really showed us...by wasting your own gas money...and time.

Freedom 500 from Brian Sprinkle on Vimeo.



via Barefoot and Progressive

Track/Video of the Day

Sleep well America, knowing that your security in these people's hands =)




via Armchair Generalist

01 May 2010

Another Pakistani "Shift?"


The arrest of Abdul Ghani Baradar and some other leading members of the Afghan Taliban in January was initially seen as a "shift" by Pakistani security forces toward a more anti-(Afghan) Taliban stance that was more in line with what American diplomats and military leaders wanted. Subsequent reports suggested that the arrests may have been motivated by other considerations (for example, the fact that Baradar may have been ready to negotiate with the government; others suggested that it may have been a method by which Pakistan could gain some leverage in any upcoming negotiations).

Now, "Western diplomats and Pakistani security officials" are saying that Pakistan may open up a new anti-insurgent front in North Waziristan. This has been one of the biggest demands of the US for some time now. Pakistan has already mounted offensives in Swat and in South Waziristan, and has suffered considerable military losses and civilian suffering as a result. The government has been hesitant to mount similar operations in North Waziristan, partly for these reasons, and partly because North Waziristan has been more a haven for anti-American/anti-Western forces, such as the Haqqani Network, than for anti-Pakistan forces like the Pakistani Taliban. The US's only way to strike in these areas has been through the use of drones.

Again, though, there is some reason to be skeptical as to whether the US and NATO are really going to get what they want if this offensive does actually happen. The offensive in South Waziristan has caused several anti-Islamabad groups and individuals, including Hakimullah Mehsud (the new leader of the Pakistani Taliban and public enemy number one), to flee to the north. The idea of launching a new offensive is probably more a result of this than Western cajoling. In the event of a Pakistani offensive, it obviously can't be assumed that Pakistani forces will go after the elements that the US and NATO wants it to after.

30 April 2010

QOTD


Bill Maher via Twitter:











Every asshole who ever chanted 'Drill baby drill' should have to report to the Gulf coast today for cleanup duty

Track of the Day

Sudanese Elections: Backstory and Future Prospects


Awesome noted on the blog earlier this week that indicted international war criminal/president Omal al-Bashir won reelection and that Salva Kiir had similarly cruised to reelection as vice president and (thus) president of the Autonomous Government of Southern Sudan. I've followed this election somewhat closely and wanted to throw in my $.02 on the situation in Sudan.

First, the elections were pretty much a sham. Go over to the Enough Project and read all about the abuses and irregularities perpetrated by the ruling party (or watch videos of the vote being rigged) or go read about all of the problems with the process listed by the Carter Center.

However, no one is making much of a fuss over this because...

a) Most of the opposition candidates did not participate, so there weren't really many choices for voters. This includes the candidate that was going to be put forward by the leading party in the South, the SLPA/M. The calculus by the SLPM seems to be...what's the point? Why worry about national elections when we are just going to secede next year?

b) As far as I can tell, the US and other Western governments seem to have made similar calculations--something like: yes, we could raise a big stink over these elections, but we want to stay on Bashir's good side in order to have at least a shot at a peaceful secession process next year (it seems fairly certain that the South will vote to secede).

There are a couple of problems with this prognosis by Southern Sudan and by the West. First, it presumes that Bashir will follow through with a fair referendum process next year and, if the South votes to secede, he will allow them to do so peacefully. This seems wildly optimistic given his past antics and the fact that huge issues such as border demarcation and oil revenues remain unresolved. For its part, Southern Sudan seems to be hedging its bets in order to force Bashir to think long and hard before trying to re-ignite the North-South Civil War that raged from the 80s all the way up until the CPA in '05.

But even assuming all goes as planned, a newly independent Southern Sudan faces seemingly insurmountable development obstacles including:
-crushing poverty (I've heard estimates that it would be the poorest country in the world)
-sporadic but deadly intercommunal violence
-periodic incursions by the Lord's Resistance Army
-landlocked with (mostly) bad neighbors, including Bashir's state, whose proximity will likely lead to very high military spending by the new state
-resource curse problems (with oil)
-likelihood of a one-party state dominated by the SPLA/M

Meanwhile, in other parts of Russia...

29 April 2010

Picture of the Day: He's At it Again



Picture via abc.net/au.

End of the Euro?

Standard and Poor's downgraded Spain's credit rating from AA+ to AA yesterday. Less than a day earlier, the IMF grudgingly agreed to more than double the size of its aid package to Greece from $45 million to $120 million. The EU's poorer states declined to contribute to Greece's rescue package leaving the IMF and Germany to cover most of the costs. The problem is: if investors lose confidence in Spain's ability to pay its debts, then its going to collapse in the same way Greece did, but there will almost certainly be no bail out for Spain since its economy is four times the size of Greece's.


What is most disturbing about this development is that Spain was actually an ideal member of the EU, keeping its debts low (in 2007 it had a lower debt to GDP ratio than Germany) and running a budget surplus. Spain's problem was that its economy became too intertwined with the housing bubble. It was receiving huge inflows of capital from the rest of the EU to invest in its housing sector (everyone loves Spanish villas), which pushed up its gdp, but also wages and prices. When the bubble collapsed, output from the housing sector fell with it, but wages remained high (wages are generally not adjustable downward), so output from other sectors was inhibited by these higher labor costs which then resulted in higher unemployement. This then led to decreased consumption (unemployed people don't buy that much) which further reduced output, and obliged the government to enact large social insurance outlays despite the huge hit to its tax revenue.

If the European labor market was more efficient (language barriers tend to prevent workers from moving around very much), then wages would not have risen so much and prices would have remained in check. Right now, if Spain had its own currency then it could devalue it to make its exports more competitive, stimulate its economy, compensate for the lost demand, and bring its internal prices back in line with the rest of Europe. But Spain doesn't have its own currency. It is stuck with the euro, and there is no monetary levers for it to pull. Rather than a quick devaluation, it is going to have to grind through a slow deflationary process as its internal prices gradually adjust.

The larger issue is whether or not other EU member states will see Spain's crisis as a signal of the EU's viability. In good times, European integration has been beneficial to all of its member states, but as the situation in Spain has shown, the integration is neither deep enough to ameliorate the negative effects of powerful macroeconomic shocks nor relaxed enough to let the member states solve their problems by themselves. Europe is stuck in an uncomfortable middle ground between full integration and independence. The only way to prevent future problems is either further integration (which is unlikely; there will not be a United States of Europe in our lifetimes), or the slow process of dissolution. If Spain collapses and the rest of the EU isn't there to lend a hand, then the EU's days are definitely numbered.

27 April 2010

Pictures of the Day: Little Known Fact, That Dog is Russia's Interior Minister
























Photos via Foreign Policy and Sulekha.

Riots In Ukraine's Parliament




Quite a few people were upset about Mr. Yanukovich's recent decision to renew Russia's lease on the port at Sevastopol for 25 years, and the situation deteriorated even further today when Ukraine's parliament approved the deal by a slim majority. Opposition leaders like Yulia Tymoshenko claim (and are probably correct) that the deal will drag Ukraine increasingly into Moscow's orbit.


Ukraine didn't get nothing for the deal. Russia is going to give them a 30% discount on natural gas worth about $40 billion over the next decade. Unfortunately, what Ukraine really needs is for gas prices to stay high so it can diversify its energy infrastructure away from its reliance on Russian natural gas. Ukraine's net consumption of natural gas as a share of its total energy consumption has increased by 10% since the early 1990's, and it imports 70% of its natural gas from Russia. Cheap gas is only going to provide a disincentive to invest in alternative sources of power and energy efficiency. Ukraine is shackling itself with some very large chains.

Economic Statecraft

There is an excellent little briefing on some recent economic and commerce related statecraft issues over at the Patterson School's class blog.

26 April 2010

Elections in Sudan

Omar al-Bashir won north Sudan's first presidential election in more than 20 years to become the first reelected head of state to ever be charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court. In Sudan's semi-autonomous south, Salva Kiir Mayardit also easily won re-election and will remain the south's president through its referendum on secession next year.

23 April 2010

QOTD

From Whiskey Fire, in response to a RedState blogger who "doesn't care about the facts."

WE’RE AT WAR! An insistence on factual accuracy is a luxury we can’t afford when the nation faces an existential threat, such as the top marginal tax rate being raised back up a couple percentage points from its all-time historical low to its previous all-time historical low. It’s just like Pearl Harbor (if the Japanese had only mildly dented 5 percent of the ships in our Pacific fleet while actually performing some needed maintenance on the remaining boats)!

22 April 2010

IMF Proposes that Governments Tax More

Got a long post today…

The IMF has proposed a series of bank taxes to avoid future meltdowns of the international financial system. Its proposal is basically two pronged: tax financial companies to the extent that they represent a systemic threat to the economy as a whole, and tax excessive profits so that these companies avoid risky investments. The idea has some merit, but it will probably not burst any future bubbles. Market distortions helped bring about the financial crisis, and distorting investment markets further will not provide any remedy.

The road to the financial crisis started with loose fiscal policy in the United States that encouraged home ownership. Since the price of debt was kept artificially low with the help of huge currency reserves amassed by foreign lenders this positive demand shock to the housing market created a positive feedback cycle that culminated in the housing asset bubble. Banks for their part had poorly calibrated risk models and brand new investment instruments that diffused risk as well as responsibility and destroyed information about the composition of their investments. When the asset bubble burst, as they always do, lenders had tied up billions of dollars in houses that nobody could afford and none of the investment banks could tell who owned the bad debt. This caused credit to tighten, which then affected the “real” economy through decreased demand.

I can identify several market distortions in this narrative: fiscal policy to subsidize housing, monetary policy that permitted the amassing of foreign debt, the investment vehicles (derivatives) that destroyed information about debt ownership, faulty risk models, the “too big to fail” strategy of the banks that led them to take on excess debt, and a principle-agent problem between the banks as an institution and their representative agents (their executives).

Levying taxing on banks is very tempting for policymakers right now. Not only is there a lot of political support for it (Tax the rich! They got us into this mess!), but the US, UK and others who are stimulating their economies with aid packages need a way of paying off all their new debt. However, I am firmly convinced that the best solution to this problem will not come through tax laws. Taxes can be evaded, and are subject to too much political jockying. The only permanent and real reforms must come from the industry itself. Banks (as an institution) need to make their executives more accountable for the risks they take, and expend the time and resources to gather proper information about the assets they are buying with their money. Tax laws are not needed for this, though legal reforms making executives more liable for taking excessive risks would definitely be an improvement. This will also help remove the moral hazard of the "too big to fail" mentality. Why would executives care if the government steps in to bail out thier company if they are still going to be held criminally accountable for thier actions? Governments also need to learn the lessons of their own mistakes, and stop relying so much on fiscal and monetary policy to achieve political goals (this will also have the duel affect of reducing public debt).

As for preventing any and all future bubbles… that’s not going to happen. Liberalizing investment means giving agents the latitude to make risky decisions, and every once in a while those risky decisions will agglomerate into an asset bubble. Shocks and volatility are the costs of having free markets. If you don’t like bubbles, you shouldn’t be a capitalist.

Track of the Day

I don't hate this, surprisingly.

21 April 2010

Good news in the fight against AQIM

The four Saharan countries most at risk from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Algeria, Mauritania, Mali, and Niger) have formed a joint command center in Algeria. While there are technically state borders in the Sahara, they do not affect AQIM much, and only a joint effort has any chance of slowing AQIM down. There are no details about how much the four countries will be working together, but it seems there will be some intelligence sharing and joint military actions.

Kudos to South Korea


South Korea has managed to foil an apparent plot to kill the most prominent North Korean defector within its borders. Two North Korean army majors attempted to "defect" in order to get close to Hwang Jang Yop, the former chief ideologue of North Korea. They have beefed up security around him (from 8 around the clock guards to at least 10).

The most vital piece of information here is that Yop defected 13 years ago. It seems that North Korea is upping the ante considerably in recent weeks, between the naval confrontation, the reports of a nuclear test, and now this. Thinking more on the nuclear test, it is possible that the regime is trying to bolster its domestic legitimacy (in desperate tatters after the botched revaluation of the currency and attempt to shut down the black markets). The only legitimacy it has left comes from confrontation with outsiders.

Of course, it could be coincidence. This is not the first time North Korea has tried to kill Yop. If that is the case, however, the North Korean government is either incompetently walled off from itself (with the left hand not knowing what the right is doing) or else just oblivious to how it is viewed from outside.

Either way, I don't think this means that we have to worry about a war breaking out, yet, but it definitely means that the chances (in the sense meant by Schelling) are increasing.

20 April 2010

Track of the Day

North Korean insanity?

Supposedly, North Korea is getting ready for a THIRD nuclear test. US and South Korean diplomats are both denying this, and I hope they are right. At no point has a nuclear test done North Korea any good, and so this third test seems to be a real test of the rationality of the Korean regime. If the North Koreans do a third test, it means the government is not responding rationally to the world around it.

I cannot see any reason for a test. Granted, the last test was kind of a flop, but North Korea cannot have enough fissile material to just waste it willy-nilly on testing. Moreover, China is moving closer to the US once again, and pissing off China cannot be a smart move for a country with no other real allies.

My fingers are crossed that this is a hoax or a mistake.

19 April 2010

Don't Get Too Excited About the Army's New Human Terrain System

Don't get me wrong, I think the US Army's new Human Terrain System (HTS) is a step in the right direction, but it is definitely not going to be the key to ending the insurgency. Although it initially focused on embedding social scientists within brigades to provide them with a cultural context for their actions, HTS has also started more large-scale, public opinion projects. If successful, HTS will provide information on public opinions that will be useful at the operational and strategic levels. A new report on the Kandahar Offensive is doing just that.

At the tactical level, the embedded cultural experts should provide a useful means through which soldiers can engage locals and respond to their opinions, wants, needs and concerns. The mere fact that the Army is trying to address the concerns of locals and work within their cultural context will help the counterinsurgency campaign.

However, HTS also has a lot of limitations. It is not going to provide unbiased information. The Census Bureau has a hard enough time getting decent response rates in the US Census, and its going to be even harder conducting surveys in extremely rural, underdeveloped warzones. The places that are the most violent are the ones where this information is going to be the most critical, but they are also the places where it is going to be the hardest to collect accurate information.

HTTs (Human Terrain Teams) are also going to be very vulnerable to information tapping by other components of the military and intelligence communities. According the its website "HTTs [Human Terrain Teams] do not collect actionable military intelligence, nor do they participate in lethal targeting", but I find it hard to believe that HTTs, having spent so much time on the ground talking to locals, will not have gathered some actionable information. The mere possibility that HTTs could relay information to other military units may impede their effectiveness.

Finally, there is only so much that cultural information and public opinion polling can do for a counterinsurgency. If done properly, HTS is definitely going to help legitimize the Army's actions, and in that sense is absolutely vital. HTS is going to tell soldiers what they can do to gain the trust and respect of the locals, but its not going to provide the Army with any information that will fundamentally change the counterinsurgency. Afghans want a legitimate government, minimal corruption, security and economic prosperity. HTS isn't going to actively accomplish any of those objectives, all it does is improve the Army's ability to accomplish them.

18 April 2010

Track of the Day

As the lead singer died a few days ago, I wanted to post this. RIP, Peter Steele.


Gates' Nuclear Iran Memo

A lot to chew on here, hope to have a post up on this sometime soon.

16 April 2010

King Abdullah's Luftballon...

He is the King of Humanitarianism. Don't believe me? It says so on his balloon.

Track of the Day

Biggest Threats Part V: The Really Bad One With Tommy Morrison


With respect to the threat posed by domestic terrorists and lone gunmen, I think the threat to national security comes more from the social reaction and policy response to attacks than from the attacks themselves (as with foreign terrorist attacks).

As far as capabilities go, obviously lone gunmen generally don't pose the same sort of large-scale threat as more organized, networked groups. The difficulty that they present is that there is no conspiracy and thus very limited opportunities for law enforcement to sniff out their plans. They are also pretty much impossible to prevent once in motion without establishing the trappings of a police state.

I don't think the threat capability of domestic terror groups comes as much from their attracting a large following and posing a direct threat to the government as much as their ability to pull off the same kind of attacks that foreign groups pull off. Let's not forget that, prior to '01, Oklahoma City was the gold standard for terror attacks on American soil. Further, there are indications from entities like the DHS and groups like the SPLC that these groups are currently on the uptick.

Biggest Threat, Part 4: The Return of the Thing From Part 2

Slim, I hate to disagree with you, but I would not classify some of the items from the list in your previous post as major security threats. I agree with most of them, but I do not think that lone gunmen or domestic based terrorists are major national security issues. Granted, I think they both could cause a lot of problems but neither of them represents a systemic threat to the United States. A lone gunman could assassinate a politician or kill a lot of people, which would be very unfortunate, but the institutions of government and business would continue to function. As for domestic terrorists, I do not think that any white supremacist, ultra-nationalist, fundamentalist or other similar group could garner enough popular support to pose a serious threat.

I am not saying that these things are not dangerous, just that they are not the most plausible means through which the national interests of the United States could be threatened. It’s also worth noting that I am defining the national interests as primacy, territorial integrity, international stability, domestic tranquility, and a well-behaved economy. Lone gunmen and domestic terrorists could threaten domestic tranquility, but not to the extent that the US could “fail” as a country.

I also want to go back to my original argument for just a minute. The reason that I included socio-economic problems on my list is because they are very subtle and it’s easy to underestimate the threat they pose. Dr. Bernanke even testified in front of Congress that the exploding national debt could undermine foreign confidence in the United States and cause all sorts of problems. I agree with you that hard security threats are important to guard against, but if the US is going to fail then it’s going to be because of a socio-economic issue that policymakers never addressed. It’s like how one out every three Americans owns a gun, but the average American is much more likely to die from the results of poor lifestyle choices (heart disease, diabetes, and cancer) than from homicide.

15 April 2010

QOTD

From here, via Whiskey Fire.

If you were to make a Venn Diagram of the issues Tea Party members care about, and the issues Tea Party members are confused about, you'd only see one circle.

Picture of the Evening



From here.

Kung fu nuns

Because, really, what other reason do I need? Kung. Fu. Nuns.

Track of the Day

14 April 2010

The Critics of Confederate History Month Are Right

Over at Down From the Mountain, a buddy of mine takes on the issue of Governor McDonnell's recent proclamation of Confederate Heritage Month in Virginia and the surrounding controversy. While John criticizes the short shrift that the governor gave slavery in the proclamation, he feels that the media fallout from the controversy was unfair to the South and to southerners and that, generally, liberals (which I am) and northerners (which I'm not) more broadly are unfair toward and dismissive of the South and southerners. He also attempts to dispel the idea that the South was the "bad guy" in the US Civil War. Herein, I take issue with several of his main contentions.

First, he accepts arguendo the common refrain that the South is "still fighting the Civil War" but claims that the North is "insistent on pushing their view" today. First, I would argue that attempting to correct the views of pro-Confederate historical revisionists who attempt to downplay the role that slavery played in motivating secession is less "pushing one's view" than "maintaining the accuracy of the historical record." Second, for most of the post-bellum period, the South has LITERALLY STILL BEEN FIGHTING THE CIVIL WAR. This began with concerted low-level campaigns of terrorist violence for nearly a century after the end of Reconstruction and later morphed into the "massive resistance" to Civil Rights legislation and desegregation.

Second, while he acknowledges that southern military leaders were highly supportive of slavery (and doesn't, as far as I can tell, argue that slavery was not the main motivating factor for secession), he argues that most rank and file southern soldiers were motivated by other factors, since only the elites were slaveowners in the antebellum South.

While this is certainly the case, people don't generally engage in this sort of celebration for other extremely questionable causes on this basis. Many soldiers in the Imperial Japanese Army were probably swell guys and just fighting out of a sense of nationalism but Japan isn't having a remebrance month for the Tojo regime. Hell, most of the fighters in Joseph Kony's murderous LRA are just abducted child soldiers but I don't think Uganda, the DRC, South Sudan, or the Central African Republic will be holding Lord's Resistance Army Day anytime soon or that their citizens will go driving around with LRA flags (if they had them) on their pickup trucks. And to be clear, McDonnell wasn't declaring "Confederate Soldier History Month" or "Civil War History Month," it was Confederate History Month.

(As an aside, as far as the motivation of rank and file soldiers throughout history goes, I think Debs pretty much nailed it in the Canton, Ohio speech:

The feudal barons of the Middle Ages...declared all wars. And their miserable serfs fought all the battles. The poor, ignorant serfs had been taught to revere their masters; to believe that when their masters declared war upon one another, it was their patriotic duty to fall upon one another and to cut one another’s throats for the profit and glory of the lords and barons who held them in contempt. And that is war in a nutshell.
)

A few other points. As Dr. Farley asks, why does "Southern History" have to be about the four years in which the region waged a treasonous war in defense of slavery rather than the other 230 years of its existence? Further, why does it have to be about the group of people who fought against the United States Government and not say, the huge chunk of people (a majority in some states) that the rebels wished to keep enslaved or the areas or individuals that remained loyal to the country?

John closes with what I think is the weakest segment of his post:

The CIA refers to the fallout of reconstruction as 'blowback.' For those who are unfamiliar with the term, it is the result of concerted military/propaganda efforts to shift the cultural, political, or social leanings of a state. And blowback there has been. The reaction to reconstruction and further oppression was violent resistance that lasts to this very day. So yes Mr. CNN bigshot, much like our interference in Afghanistan during their war with the Soviets.


Blowback is usually used to refer to the unintended consequences of a covert action, not of reconstruction. He misuses the term here. First, there was certainly nothing covert about Lincoln et al.'s crushing of the rebellion. Second, blowback is generally something surprising or unforeseen (e.g. we didn't know that helping Ethiopia overthrow the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia would lead to the rise of the far worse Al-Shabab). The southern reaction to Reconstruction was completely foreseeable, which is why the Radical Republicans in Congress enacted such sweeping measures. The reason that southerners were able to "continue fighting" the war (as noted above) is because that Reconstruction program ended following the Compromise of 1877.

CRM to Develop an Iron Ore Mine in Sierra Leone

In response to last months restructuring of iron ore prices, the China Railway Materials Commercial Corporation (a state-owned steel trader) has signed a deal with African Minerals (an exploration company) to develop the Tonkolili iron ore deposit in Sierra Leone. Last month, Vale and BHP Billiton won their bid to change the way iron ore contracts are negotiated, and prices are expected to double as a result. Higher prices means that mining companies can increase their capital investments and mine in areas that were previously unprofitable. This is why it is no surprise that lower-grade deposits like Tonkolili are now commercially viable mining projects. This is excellent news for the world market because it will decrease the growth in prices caused by rising demand from Asia (which is largely the reason prices were rising so steeply in the first place). It will also dampen the market power of Vale, BHP Billiton, and Rio Tinto (the three main iron ore producers), which should also help lower prices because additional competition forces firms to reduce their profit margins.


Anti-Track of the Day: Fuckin' Magnets, How Do They Work?



I don't wanna talk to a scientist...

The WikiLeaks Video

Everyone should go read Mackinder's take on this over at Defense Statecraft. It's the best thing I've seen written on this (and it comes from a colleague--the same guy who made the HATERS GONNA HATE pic a few posts down!).

Biggest Threat, Part 3: Electric Boogaloo


I am in total agreement with Frosty and Awesome that the nuclear terrorism threat is way overblown. For more on this I recommend reading Mueller's Atomic Obsession and following Armchair Generalist, a defense policy analyst blogger who writes extensively on CBRN issues (it's a lot of fun to see him rant about some dumb politician hyping the latest existential threat everyday).

Awesome, in the linked post above, does a particularly good job of identifying long-term, pernicious socio-economic trends that should be particularly troubling to short-sighted US policymakers. That post got me thinking, though, about what are the biggest direct, pressing "hard security" threats facing the United States? Here's the DNI's list, and here's what I could come up with (in no particular order):

1. drug cartel violence in Mexico spilling over the border
2. homegrown terror groups with regular ass bombs and guns (either white nationalist, survivalist, or Islamists who may or may not have foreign connections)
3. foreign Islamist terrorists with regular ass bombs and guns
4. lone-wolf nut jobs with guns and either mental illness or ideological zeal
5. some kind of massive disruption to the flow of Middle Eastern oil (doesn't seem like we're going to transition our economy away from oil anytime soon)
6. getting bogged down in another long, grueling COIN war somewhere, like Yemen or Somalia (or looking ahead, the Niger Delta or Sudan or D-RoC)
7. dumb politicians (on either side) sparking an economic confrontation between the US & China that spirals into an arms race

Nothing nuclear, chemical, biological, or radiological on this list. What do you think?

13 April 2010

Why is Taiwan worried about carriers?

I know that China is refurbishing a carrier and leasing another one, but why on earth would that lead to Taiwan to build an anti-carrier ship? The Diplomat's Jason Miks calls it "interesting". To me, it seems really misplaced.

The greatest threat from China against Taiwan is the vast buildup of missiles facing it, not any Chinese carrier. A carrier does allow China to fly more sorties, or faster sorties at least, against Taiwanese targets. However, China can already fly sorties from the mainland. It doesn't need a carrier to do that. An anti-carrier boat is nice, but not essential to Taiwan's defense. Taking down those missiles (or some good portion)? Much more essential.

So, because I refuse to believe that groups like this never do anything for blatantly illogical purposes, what's the point? What's going on? Is it just balancing against a new threat (while ignoring the bigger, present one), or is there a hidden strategy at work?

Chinatown

I've only been to NYC a few times, but Chinatown holds a very special place in my heart. I love it, I love the food, I love the stores. Love it.

So, I'm very sad to hear the following: "Last night a 7-alarm fire destroyed several buildings in NYC's Chinatown, leaving hundreds of residents homeless."

I'm hoping that they can find places for them soon, and I hope the area bounces back soon.


Russian involvement in Kyrgyzstan

In Slim's post yesterday, he mentioned that there are conspiracy theories circulating about Russia's support for the opposition movement in Kyrgyzstan. According to the Washington Post, those theories are not without justification. Within the past year Russia has canceled a $2 billion aid package to Kyrgyzstan, cut oil subsidies, and aired very negative portrayals of Bakiyev during the anniversary of the Tulip Revolution.

When I first heard rumors about a Russian sponsored revolution, I dismissed the whole idea. Bakiyev had been drifting away from Moscow's orbit for a quite a while, but the risks of overthrowing him far exceeded the benefits. Not only would a revolution agitate Russia's Kyrgyz migrants, but if it failed then everyone would know that Russia was behind it. Aside from the Kant airbase, Kyrgyzstan isn't very critical to Russia's security or economy, and even if the opposition secured its hold on the Kyrgyz government there was no reason for Moscow to believe that it would be any more cooperative than the previous regime. Bakiyev was supposed to kick the Americans out of the airbase at Manas after the Tulip revolution, but that didn't happen. Why would Moscow risk a revolution when the outcomes are so unpredictable?

I still do not believe Russia orchestrated the revolution. What is more likely is that the Kremlin was trying to ratchet up pressure on Bakiyev's regime by choking off gasoline exports and foreign aid. The outbreak of revolution was a possibility but not an intention. This makes more sense than assuming Russia was hoping that its southern neighbor would collapse (most countries don't want their neighbors to descend into anarchy).

12 April 2010

Biggest Threat, Part 2

Frosty makes a good point. I don't think anyone in the Pentagon is really worried about a nuclear armed al-Queda, but President Obama has to address the concerns of the citizens, even if they are based more in movie reality than actual reality.

I'm not trying to dismiss the possibility of nuclear armed terrorist group (it is highly unlikely, but within the realm of possibility). However, I would definitely not classify it as the greatest threat facing the country. Nuclear bombs, terrorist attacks, insurgencies, and war are so dramatic that the public consciousness fixates on them and its easy to forget about the more mundane factors that are undermining our nation's security every single day. In my humble opinion, the greatest threats facing the United States involve no violence at all:

1) Long term, institutionalized debt (both public and private)
3) Increasing income inequality

All three of these have long term implications that will damage the primacy of the United States. What do you all think? What would be on your list?

Okay, I Have To...




















h/t to my classmate who made this