Thursday, 31 May 2007

All Bush, no action

US President George Bush. If one called him an environmentalist, one would be considered an absolute idiot. In America, has deregulated modest environmental controls, killed many eco-initiatives, rolled back years of environmental progress while accelarating the detrimental effect the US has on our planet. No, the purpose of this post isn't to go on another environmental schpiel, but the environment — like human rights and all other things not relating to war or money — is one of the subjects Bush is all talk, no action on.

He has proposed action on reducing greenhouse gases, even though he hardly, if at all, believes in global warming. Of course this is to pacify the international community infuriated by the US's inaction on such pressing global issues. Like his other not-so-bright ideas that he doesn't actually believe in, which are basically just rhetoric, there is no goal to actually take action on climate change from within the White House. Bush presented no ideas on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and outrightly opposed such common and expert-suggested actions like carbon trading and caps — sensible steps that can be taken modestly. In short, he has opposed any action at all. His administration has a track record on blocking progress in the battle against human caused climate change.

Rhetoric has seeped from the White House these past six years possibly more than ever. This rhetoric is often irrational and false. The administration has been unaccountable and the least transparent since Nixon's horrendous time in office. The environment and human rights might not be politically sexy issues like terrorism, but at the end of the day they matter more.

Not destroying the planet we inhabit to the point which we can survive no more should be a goal of governments everywhere — and it is a goal of many. However time and time again the only environmental policies the administration has enacted are either diluted forms of old ones or those in which it eats out of the hands of the agriculture or energy lobbies. And no, corn ethanol is not good for the environment. The only thing it is good for are the American farmers. Pain to the environment is a high price to pay for pleasing special interests — like when Ronald Reagen had the brilliant idea of sacking many of the US's practical and fuel efficient trains and killing the competition of the truck driver lobby. it is actually counterproductive to make because it takes nearly 30% more energy to create than it gives out (another plant Bush has spoken about, switchgrass, uses 45% more energy to make than it ultimately gives out, and that's not Bush bashing, its science. That is energy made by — drumroll please — the same fossil fuels America apparantly hoped to get away from in the first place. Coal has also popped up as a contender to power the US's massive energy usage. Coal is also much dirtier than oil, and is an overall stupid fuel to use in that it is amazingly unenvironmentally friendly.

Sugar ethanol might well be the way to go. One might think it would be easy, with free trade and all, and Brazil — which uses E85 sugar ethanol — only a bit away. The catch-22(s): free trade isn't that free when you have lobbyist and special interests nipping at your political power. One of the many problems in America which I hope to cover soon is indeed the prevalence of special interests and the detrimental affect they wreak on democracy.

Like many, I am skeptical of Bush's new environmental plan. As climate change reaches another 'tipping point' — honestly, hysterics don't help either — action must be taken. And his announcement comes after America refused a sensible G8 action plan on reducing greenhouse gases. Bush has a hard time accepting science. This is in part due to his wanting to reach into the deep pockets of the lobbyists for political and financial gold, but also comes as a result of his stubborn, narrow ideology, the same ideology that rejects scientifically-backed up evolution in favor of a more religious approach. And some people wonder why he has messed up the United States so much.

Will Iran and Syria finally divorce?

Just as Iran has its nuclear issue causing the international community to stand on edge, its pal Syria has the Rafik Hariri assassination case, which has also kept news-watchers like myself on the edge of our seats. How long will Iran and Syria's little friendship last? Lebanon and isolation by (in Syria's case) and dislike of (in Iran's case) the United States are two of the common threads. As a result both have been known to harbor or support extremists. Contrary to what the White House says every day, there is no pure evil, no clear enemy, in world politics, or most other things.

But neither Damascus or Tehran should take their alliance for granted.

On Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council voted to establish a special court to try those who participated in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria is the prime suspect in the crime. Its allies blocked passage of the tribunal through the Lebanese Parliament, which is why the Security Council decided to approve it unilaterally. However, an increasingly pertinent question, albeit one only now beginning to provoke interest, is what the tribunal might mean for Syrian-Iranian collaboration in Lebanon.
Lebanon, thanks to a series of Security Council resolutions designed to bolster its independence from Syria, investigate the Hariri murder, and reinforce a U.N. peacekeeping force along the border with Israel, finds itself under de facto international trusteeship. For Hezbollah to find the Americans at their doorstep again must have been galling. The United States, France, the United Nations, and leading Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, have attempted to firm up the country against two parallel developments: Syria's persistent efforts to destabilize Lebanon, mainly to undermine a Hariri tribunal that threatens the Syrian regime; and Iran's desire to use Lebanon as an outpost in the Levant from where it might derail American, Israeli, or Western initiatives with which it is unhappy; but also from where it can deter, through Hezbollah, an Israeli or U.S. strike against its nuclear facilities.

But will Syria and Iran remain on the same wavelength in Lebanon now that the regime of President Bashar Assad is more vulnerable than ever? The two countries have cooperated closely, and according to a diplomat who travels to Damascus, Iran is manning listening posts in Syrian territory from which even Russian experts are denied entry. The notion of a sudden Iranian-Syrian split seems, for the moment, naive.

However, with a green light for the Hariri tribunal, things may become more complicated.

So the Mid-East chapter of the "axis of evil" might soon be no more. But don't count on it happening anytime soon.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Teletubbies equal gay?

Here's the culprit:

How unimaginably evil. Don't be fooled by his innocent caricature, this guy is out to get you.
Some facts/things to consider about this vile character:

  • The late Rev. Jerry Falwell, in all his craziness, once attacked the Telletubby named Tinky Winky.
  • A malevolent homosexual wishing to make your kid gay in some way or another? A menace to your child's morals and heterosexuality? ...Or an innocent young children's TV character?

    The Polish government is quite worried about a certain television show. No, its not because of sexual content or violence, or any other inappropriate content for that matter. Their worries stem from what is perceived as homosexuality exhibited in a TV show aimed at children not even old enough to write.

    BBC News:
    A senior Polish official has ordered psychologists to investigate whether the popular BBC TV show Teletubbies promotes a homosexual lifestyle.

    The spokesperson for children's rights in Poland, Ewa Sowinska, singled out Tinky Winky, the purple character with a triangular aerial on his head.

    "I noticed he was carrying a woman's handbag," she told a magazine. "At first, I didn't realise he was a boy."

    EU officials have criticised Polish government policy towards homosexuals.

    Ms Sowinska wants the psychologists to make a recommendation about whether the children's show should be broadcast on public television.

    Poland's authorities have recently initiated a series of moves to outlaw the promotion of homosexuality among the nation's children.
    One radio station asked its listeners to vote for the most suspicious children's show. Some e-mailed in, saying that Winnie the Pooh had only male friends.
    Poland was criticised recently after its education ministry announced plans to sack teachers who promote homosexuality.

    Last month the European Union singled out Poland for criticism in its resolution condemning homophobia in the 27-member bloc.

    Even if the show did 'promote a homosexual lifestyle' — which it obviously doesn't — wouldn't that be fine considering the countless shows that promote purely heterosexual 'lifestyles'?

    Before I get to the whole 'there's something wrong with being-gay' part, or rather my argument quashing the 'evil homosexual agenda' homophobia, let me just say this: Kid's aren't going to turn gay from watching the Telletubbies, nor any other television shows. The same applies to the fact that one will not turn magically into a gay fashionista by watching Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. And you certainly won't likely become the next Sherlock Holmes by watching all the crime dramas you can.

    Homosexuality isn't a lifestyle choice, and it certainly is not a dangerous ideology being imposed involuntarily. In fact, if a parent — in Poland or anywhere else — does not think their child should watch a certain TV program, all they have to do is press a button. It's hard to grasp how somehow the perceived homosexual qualities of the Telletubbies — which doesn't even have sex nonetheless things that would imply a character's sexual orientation — are malevolent, a menace to their children so large that the government needs to step in and take care of the problem! In addition, this homophobia, while not uncommon, emphasizes the public in belief in gender role stereotypes (e.g. that a guy with a purse is gay, just because he has a purse). Something as simple as stopping with a click of a button should not create this much stir; nor should the government care if Tinky Winky has a handbag and an upside-down triangle on the top of his head; or whether he's a boy or a girl, or whatever he is. None of that is a danger to Polish children.

    The EU is right to denounce Poland's state-sponsored human rights abuses and homophobia. However the United States and many other countries have the same problems of homophobia and not accepting differences as Poland. And it's not only the government — it's society too. There is rampant homophobic nonsense echoing from governments everywhere too, and a state's politics greatly shapes its society and its qualities, for better or for worse. Considering America is more developed, open, democratic, and liberal than Poland, one would hope it would also clean up its act. It's pitiful, the state of LGBT rights in the US.

    With Poland (still) being bullied by its neighbors to the east and immediate west, Russia and Germany, over energy resources this time loosing political support from other countries and the European Union is not a good thing as Polish political policies go down the drain.

    It is now — and has been — completely known that homosexuality is not a lifestyle choice, it's biological.

    Thank goodness we have the Polish government to protect our young's sexual orientation...

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  • He's tough on genocide, in theory

    Bush has imposed more sanctions on Sudan. They probably won't help seeing as China is the only one — (a): China gets a lot of oil from Sudan, and (b): because of that it finances some business initiatives there, like it does with other African countries — who can really use economic leverage to steer the Sudanese government in the right direction, and refuses to do so mostly because of the economic repercussions. At least the US government is taking notice of the genocide.

    Who knows if the sanctions are going to really accomplish their goals of pressuring Sudan's government, but at least someone of influence is caring about the genocide in Darfur. Who would've thought it would be the same guy who doesn't seem to care about innocent Iraqi civilians dying. Too bad also that America has used up so much of its diplomatic power — and tarnished the global perception of its policies — on pointless and unpopular excursions to the point where its influence on Khartoum and Beijing is diluted, that and George Bush is always less action, more rhetoric.

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    Saturday, 26 May 2007

    Too much compromise?

    When I said the Democrats should work on a subject other than Iraq, in addition to Iraq, which they had less power on than what is ideal, I didn't mean they should compromise with the White House on nearly every issue. That also looks bad to the voters who are fed up with the Iraq policy, and see the Dems as caving into the White House's ever wish just as the Republicans did when they were in power. If only they could have gotten the Bush administration to compromise more, thus making it less powerful than it thinks it is when it comes to managing foreign policy. This can never be emphasized enough: the executive needs to be kept in check.

    Positives: the bill required some compromise by the Republicans and the Bush administration too, namely on raising hte minimum wage (finally) from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour and setting real benchmarks for Baghdad security progress rather than the imaginary ones Bush preaches. Just as the Democrats finally fulfill some of their election promises, they backtrack, as it is, on the large issue of Iraq. However, it's not like they had many other options, and most other political wrangling would waste more time.

    The emergency war funding bill was signed 109 days after President George Bush presented it to Congress. It passed 80 to 14 in the Senate, 280 to 142 in the House, and includes $120 billion in funding. Bush had promised a prompt veto of any bill containing measures for troop withdrawal, and the Dems didn't (and don't) have a large enough majority to override him.

    [Bush] said the 18 benchmarks should signal to the Iraq government that "it needs to show real progress in return for America's continued support and sacrifice." But he added, "We're going to expect heavy fighting in the weeks and months" ahead.

    The focus now shifts to September, when the new funding runs out, and when U.S. commanders say they will be able to assess the results of an ongoing troop buildup.
    The votes yesterday marked a rare moment of bipartisanship in an otherwise contentious and emotional debate. The first Iraq spending bill, which included a withdrawal timetable and was vetoed by Bush on May 1, split lawmakers more or less along party lines.
    Republican support was nearly unanimous in both chambers. In the Senate, 37 Democrats supported the bill, while 10 opposed it.

    This looks for the most part more like a GOP bill than a Democratic one. Nonetheless, I'm sure the Republicans were eager to get off of the Iraq issue, which they have a particular weakness for, and not appear to oppose things like raising the minimum wage, which they had opposed in the past against the popular support in raising it.

    Republicans are also getting restless in the search for progress in Iraq — the progress the Bush administration keeps saying is right around the corner. Hopefully these benchmarks will help pressure the Bush administration as much as it pressures the Iraqi government. However, might the Iraq government ignore the benchmarks just to get US troops out? I'm sure the White House won't make it that easy.
    In the House, a majority of Democrats rejected the Iraq funding. A separate domestic spending measure that was packed with lawmaker priorities, including a federal minimum wage increase, passed easily by a 348 to 73 vote. In the Senate, the two bills were merged into one package.

    "We have moved the ball forward. Far enough? No," said Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), one of the 86 House Democrats who supported the Iraq bill.

    Pelosi was among the 140 House Democrats to oppose it. "This is a token," she said moments before the vote. "This is a small step forward. Instead, we should have a giant step forward."
    Pelosi's vote does not surprise me. I wonder, however, if she still needs to face the reality of the current state of US politics; her rhetoric is still to hopeful and ambitious, not that it shouldn't be considering the position she's in. She needs to divert the anti-war Democrats' attention away from the compromise and more towards the fact that the Dems are different and intend to make real change, even on Iraq, whether that's true, or practical, or not is of issue.
    In the Senate, the two leading Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.), were among the 14 opponents. "This vote is a choice between validating the same failed policy in Iraq that has cost us so many lives and demanding a new one. And I am demanding a new one," Obama said.

    It is interesting that Clinton voted a bit more liberally than I expected on this bill. So far she has been unapologetic on the Iraq issue, even more so than many Republican candidates for 2008.
    "We are moving backward," said Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), a war opponent. "Instead of forcing the president to safely redeploy our troops, instead of coming up with a strategy providing assistance to a post-redeployment Iraq, and instead of a renewed focus on the global fight against al-Qaeda, we are faced with a spending bill that kicks the can down the road and buys the administration time."

    The final bill includes $17 billion in unrelated domestic spending, a slight reduction from the $21 billion that Congress added to the first package. The minimum-wage increase would bump the hourly rate to $7.25 an hour from the current rate of $5.15 over the next two years. The wage increase was one of the Democrats' 2006 election promises, and was attached to the war bill to guarantee that it would reach Bush's desk.

    The bulk of the funding -- around $100 billion -- would continue military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The nonmilitary spending includes $6.4 billion for Gulf Coast hurricane recovery efforts and $3 billion in emergency aid to farmers, for relief from drought and other natural disasters. An additional $1 billion would pay for port and mass-transit security upgrades. Children's health-care funding would increase by $650 million.

    It is not uncommon for bills one topic to have amendments on totally different topics. That is one major problem with the American legislative system, in addition to the issue of streamlining, or lack thereof.
    Other domestic beneficiaries include state HIV grant programs, mine safety research, youth violence prevention activities, and pandemic flu protection. About $3 billion would fund the conversion of U.S. military bases that are scheduled to close.

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    Friday, 25 May 2007

    The intelligence community gets it right, but...

    ...another failure of imagination for the rest of the government (this time on Iraq, before on 9/11).

    On a somewhat similar note to the Sadr announcement, US pre-Iraq war intelligence has been releasted today in the form of a Senate report investigating how the United States' excursion in Iraq could have gone so wrong. The report reveals the intelligence assessments predicted that Saddam loyalists would team up with al-Qaeda and other factions to fight the occupation as well as other groups in sectarian violence. The intelligence community also saw the estabilishing of democrasy in Iraq as a difficult goal.

    The U.S. intelligence community accurately predicted months before the Iraq war that al-Qaeda would link up with elements from former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime and militant Islamists to conduct terrorist attacks against U.S. forces in that country, according to a report released today by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

    Two national intelligence assessments sent to the White House and other senior Bush administration policymakers in January 2003 also predicted that al-Qaeda "would try to take advantage of U.S. attention on postwar Iraq to re-establish its presence in Afghanistan," according to the Senate report.

    The long-awaited section of the committee's so-called Phase II report, which covers the pre-war intelligence assessments of what conditions would be like after the conflict in Iraq, also said that Iran would seek to influence a post-war Iraq to protect its own security interests and to demonstrate its importance as a regional actor. The assessments also said that "elements" within the Iranian government might aggressively counter the United States in Iraq by using Shiite and Kurdish contacts "to sow dissent against the U.S. presence and complicate the formation of a new, pro-U.S. Iraqi government."

    Sadr gone good?

    A man so often despised for inflaming Iraq's civil war with his extremist Shia Mahdi Army has softened up. At his first public appearance in months, Moqtada al-Sadr agreed to a peace plan and talks with Sunni moderates in a bid for stability to Iraq. He still, however, emphasized the fight needed against the American(-led) occupation, by Sunnis and Shias alike.

    ...the cleric urged his followers to use peaceful means of opposition.

    The cleric's brand of nationalism and populism has made him a popular figure among Iraq's Shia Muslims, but it is not clear why he has chosen this moment to return.

    Moqtada Sadr is one of the most important players in Iraq's complex sectarian and political mosaic, says the BBC's security correspondent Rob Watson.

    One theory for his return is a desire to re-assert control over his militia, which is reported to be increasingly fragmented.

    Mr Sadr may also see a chance to strengthen his position in the absence of his great Shia rival Abdul Aziz Hakim, who has left Iraq for medical treatment, our correspondent says.

    Sadr is a powerful Muslim cleric, and as this most recent revelation has emphasized, he is as unpredictable as he is radical. A while back he was believed by some to have left Iraq for Iran.

    A look at a repressed democratic activist: Aung San Suu Kyi

    Aung San Suu Kyi — democratic activist continually detained by her military state

    Her name is known worldwide as a woman who stands for democracy in the face of brutal authoritarian oppression. She is a Nobel Peace Prize winner (1991) — the only currently imprisoned one in fact — and an enemy of the military junta that rules Myanmar, known also as Burma. Her party rightly won the election in 1990, but the ruthless military set in. Suu Kyi has been detained for over a decade, and her detention has just been extended. The only reason she isn't dead is because she is one of the most popular and notable figures from Burma, a state that is odd in itself (see secret and mysterious capital change).

    Burma is among one of the most human rights abusive countries on the planet, and is often ignored as authoritarian nations like North Korea and Sudan take center stage. In fact, the news about Suu Kyi was barely covered in the western media, even for a person who the United States, European Union, and others, as well as a UN official, have spoken recently in support of. General Than Shwe and his military thugs govern the country, with no respect for the people.

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    Wednesday, 23 May 2007

    CIA authorized to destabilize Iran's government (?)

    The CIA returning to the dark days of overthrowing stable governments and causing more trouble than its worth?

    The CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert "black" operation to destabilize the Iranian government, current and former officials in the intelligence community tell the Blotter on

    The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, say President Bush has signed a "nonlethal presidential finding" that puts into motion a CIA plan that reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran's currency and international financial transactions.

    "I can't confirm or deny whether such a program exists or whether the president signed it, but it would be consistent with an overall American approach trying to find ways to put pressure on the regime," said Bruce Riedel, a recently retired CIA senior official who dealt with Iran and other countries in the region.

    Many have called ABC News "traitors" for its report. I call it journalism. Uncovering unacceptable programs like this and letting the public know what its government is doing is something journalists are supposed to do — not clog the airways with worthless muck like Anna Nicole Smith stories. We deserve to know what junk the government is doing, especially if it is as bad as invading on the sovereignty of another state! Iran is not an enemy. There is no war. Therefore, authorizations like the one alleged above is outrageous.

    There is no way in hell this CIA program can help the situation in Iran. Iran is defiantly moving on with its nuclear program, but overthrowing the government would likely result in a takeover by diehard radicals — the real danger. And if you think Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is bad, wait until you see the guys just itching for power over Iran's still undeveloped yet potentially daunting nuclear program.

    Attacking Iran militarily would also only make the problem worse.

    So what should we do with Iran? When all else seems to fail, time for real diplomacy. And sanctions? Are they helping? Let's wait and see. But sanctions shouldn't be the only diplomatic action the United States is pushing for.

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    Well, maybe it's not a new Cold War, but...

    Diplomatic relations between Russia and the West sure are getting chillier.

    Whether its the war of words with the United States (the missile shield issue comes to mind), the Litvinenko murder case straining relations with with Britain, or the ill-concluded talks with the European Union at the EU-Russia summit — especially over oil and gas, as well as Germany siding with Russia as, for example, Poland suffers.

    Both sides might well be overplaying their cards, warning of new 'war's, how one side is demonic, etc. But as this is the often fragile game of world diplomacy, overplaying such cards is not a wise choice — by the EU, America, or Russia itself. The UK's situation is a bit more sticky, as the former KBG man and Putin dissenter Alexander Litvinenko looks to have possibly been killed by a _ of Russia's vast, post-Soviet security fringe within the government.

    If Russia is getting wealthier because of its energy exports, why are freedoms shrinking? Why is Vladimir Putin becoming a dictator, if he isn't already one? It's interesting to look at how wealth, and even education, do not always result in freedoms for the population of a state. A closer look at that soon.

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    America’s imperial motives, real and perceived

    There is a perception in the Mid-East and elsewhere that the United States is a hostile, hegemonic power. Even though that’s wishful thinking, the reality is quite different. Still, political leaders from Russia’s Vladimir Putin to al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden are able to use the imperialistic, evil superpower approach to get support. In bin Laden’s case, that support is used to fight the US; in Putin’s case it is just used to make his people think they need a protector (him) and increase his power. Ironically leaders use fear of the US to increase their own political motives as American policy makers use fear of those other leaders to increase their power. The United States' post-9/11 foreign policy has not only made it arguably more vulnerable to attack — because of perception and the fueling of terrorist insurgent movements — but has also damaged diplomatic ties. This is emphasized by the Bush Doctrine.

    The Mid-East has a history of being colonized by European powers, though not as completely as some other areas of the world. Much of what is now the Mid-East fell under the Ottoman Empire, which was reduced to Turkey soon after the start of the 21st century. Cries of neoimperialism are common in modern politics in formerly colonized countries. Leaders like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe craft alternative universes in which America and others are ruthlessly trying to take his nation, and he is the only one who can stop them. These tactics include using false, victimized versions of history along with peppered terror rhetoric about how the world’s powers are set to invade. Similar cries can be heard among Islamist leaders, albeit with a more religious spin. America, the Great Satan, is out to get all of Islam, they say, and will not rest until it controls all of the fruitful, oil-rich Middle East. Depending on how one defines 'empire' and perceives 'empire', there may or may not be an American Empire.

    If the US was so obsessed in controlling all oil resources in the Middle East — and indeed if it invaded Iraq for the oil — as it is alleged, policy would be different. Ferguson points out the flaws in the ‘America is only interested in the Mid-East for the oil' argument in Colossus (p. 109):

    [America] would surely have ... difficulty in one fundamental respect. For nothing could have been better calculated to alienate the Arab peoples than constant support for the state of Israel.

    Whether America is a true hegemonic demon or not, there is no doubt it has tried to exert its power as the global police, the untouchable enforcer of self-defined good, the setter of standards and prime user of force, under the Bush administration. The neoconservative role in the White House has not only expanded the presidency at home, but attempts to do the same abroad, with a neoimperial zest for self-supremacy. However, as the US tries to expand its world power, its foes use that to their advantage, striving to make their people believe the US has already made itself a full-fledged empire. The neoimperial actions are likely to fail, says G. John Ikenberry,
    If history is any guide, it will trigger resistance that will leave America in a more hostile and divided world.

    Threats of force like preemption, a prime area of the Bush Doctrine, which was used in the case of the Iraq war, are not likely to be received well by the international community either.

    Poor excuse for Iraq occupation

    (The name of) Osama bin Laden was used for another political ploy as President George Bush once again affirmed Iraq as the central battleground of the "war on terror".

    Bush's speech...was part of a White House campaign in recent weeks to portray the violence in Iraq as primarily a function of al-Qaeda -- and playing down the internal divisions within Iraq. The apparent hope is to regain some political support for an endeavor that has become deeply unpopular among the American people, since fighting terrorists is seen as more acceptable than policing a civil war. Bush on Wednesday said the "most destructive" force trying to sink the U.S. strategy in Iraq is al-Qaeda.

    Contrary to what the White House says, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is not a danger to the US homeland. AQI is a relatively small ("Numerous estimates show that the group called “al Qaeda in Iraq” (AQI) comprises only 5 to 10 per cent of the Sunni insurgents’ forces.") and fractured group overrepresented in power by the daunting calls by politicians on both sides of the aisle for a fight against it.

    How long will politicians be able to say the word 'terrorism' and scare the public into submission for their policies?

    Here's part of a good article on Iraq from Prospect Magazine by Robert Dreyfuss (I know, it's a long quote):
    To understand why it is a mistake to assume the worst [about troop withdrawal from Iraq], let’s begin with the most persistent, Bush-fostered fear about post-occupation Iraq: that al Qaeda or other Islamic extremists will seize control once America departs, or that al Qaeda will establish a safe haven in a rump, lawless “Sunnistan.”
    The doomsayers’ second great fear is that the Sunni-Shia sectarian civil war could escalate, reaching near-genocidal levels and sucking in Iraq’s neighbours. But let’s look at the countervailing factors—and there are many. First, the US is doing little, if anything, to restrain ethnic cleansing, either in Baghdad neighbourhoods or Sunni and Shia enclaves surrounding the capital. Indeed, under its current policy, the US is arming and training one side in a civil war by bolstering the Shia-controlled army and police.
    Second, although battle lines are hardening and militias on both sides are becoming self-sustaining, the civil war is limited by physical constraints. Neither the Sunnis nor the Shias have much in the way of armour or heavy weapons—tanks, major artillery, helicopters and the like. ... Presuming neither side gets its hands on heavy weapons, once you take US forces out of the equation, the Sunnis and Shias would ultimately reach an impasse.

    Even if post-occupation efforts to create a new political compact among Iraqis fail, the most likely outcome is, again, a bloody Sunni-Shia stalemate, accompanied by continued ethnic cleansing in mixed areas. But that, of course, is no worse than the path Iraq is already on.

    A third countervailing factor is that neither Shia Iran nor the Sunni Arab countries would want to risk a regional conflagration by providing their Iraqi proxies with the heavy weapons that would enable them to wage offensive operations. The only power that could worsen Iraq’s sectarian civil war is the US. Washington continues to arm and train the Shias, although so far it has resisted pleas to provide Iraq’s Shia-led army and police with heavy weapons, armour and an air force. Only if that policy changed, and the US began to create a true Shia army in Iraq, would the Sunni Arab states feel compelled to build up Iraq’s Sunni paramilitary militias into something resembling a traditional army.

    Thus even if we assume that Iraq’s parties cannot achieve some sort of reconciliation as the US withdraws, an American pullout is hardly guaranteed to unleash chaos. On the contrary, each year since 2003 that American troops have remained in Iraq, the violence has escalated steadily.

    The third great fear about a post-occupation Iraq—although it gets less attention than it deserves—is the possibility of a crisis triggered by a Kurdish power grab in Kirkuk, the city at the heart of Iraq’s northern oil fields. Since 2003, the Kurds have been systematically ethnic cleansing, packing Kirkuk with Kurds, kidnapping or driving out Arab residents (many of them settled there by Saddam), and stacking the city council with Kurdish partisans.
    It’s hard to exaggerate the dangers inherent in a Kurdish grab for Kirkuk. Such a move would inflame Iraq’s Arab population (Sunnis and Shias), impinge on other minorities (including Turkmen and Christians) and provoke an outburst of ethnic cleansing in the city. Iraq’s two-sided civil war would become three-sided.
    Conversely, under the US occupation the Kurds apparently feel emboldened to press their advantage in Kirkuk.
    Not only is the worst-case scenario far from a sure thing in the event of an American withdrawal, but there is also a best-case scenario. Precisely because the idea of all-out civil war and a regional blow-up involving Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are so horrifying, the political forces inside and outside Iraq have many incentives not to go there.

    And though things have gone horrendously awry since the 2003 invasion, there are many factors that could provide the glue to put Humpty back together again. Contrary to the conventional wisdom in Washington, Iraq is not a make-believe state cobbled together after the first world war, but a nation united by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, just as the Nile unites Egypt. Historically, the vast majority of Iraqis have not primarily identified themselves as Sunnis or Shias. Of course, as the civil war escalates, more Iraqis are identifying by sect. But it is not too late to resurrect some of the comity that once existed. The war is not a conflict between all Sunnis and all Shias, but a violent clash of extremist paramilitary armies. Most Iraqis do not support the extremists on either side. According to a poll conducted in June 2006 by the International Republican Institute, “78 per cent of Iraqis, including a majority of Shias, opposed the division of Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines.”

    What most Iraqis do seem to want, according to numerous polls, is for American forces to leave. Even within the current, skewed Iraqi political system, a majority of Iraq’s parliament supports a US withdrawal.
    This shared desire could be another crucial force in helping maintain the integrity of Iraq. The catch-22 of Iraqi politics is that any Iraqi government created or supported by the US is instantly suspect in Iraqi eyes. By the same token, a nationalist government that succeeds in ushering US forces out of Iraq would have overwhelming support from most Iraqis on most sides of the conflict. With that support, such a government might be able to make the difficult compromises—like amending the constitution to give minority protections to Sunnis—that the current government has been unable or unwilling to make, but that most observers believe are crucial to any lasting political settlement.

    Monday, 21 May 2007

    Soft is good, or why ambivalence wins over coercion

    America is attacking the symptoms rather than the problem — the source — of terrorism. To explain the faults of America’s counterterrorism policy, in regards to its foreign policy, one must observe what exactly that policy is. To operate in a more stable power balance, the US must employ soft power — which Joseph Nye calls "the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion" — rather than the military coerciveness and saber rattling of hard power.

    The origins of terrorism are also an issue to be studied. As far as counterterrorism’s woes go, the fire paradox is a problem and side-effect; soft power might just be part of the solution. Perception is a key element in this soft power, and a component in the fire paradox. The perception of America’s counterterrorism efforts abroad makes them all the more futile.

    Soft power face-off: Ferguson v. Nye

    Not everyone is a fan of ‘soft power’...

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    Sunday, 20 May 2007

    Ron Paul: the libertarian Web candidate

    Who is he?
    A 72-year-old Republican congressman and physician from Texas. Presidential candidate with libertarian stances, with a disproportionate amount of support on the Web compared to in general, where he is not on most polls or in many debates. The libertarian fringe of the GOP's Howard Dean of '08? In short: Ron Paul is a libertarian Web phenomenon

    What does he stand for?
    American libertarianism and, to some, paleo-conservativsm.

    Who are his main supporters?
    Many Diggers adore him, as do other geeky (not meant pejoratively) demographics. Also people who hate big government liberalism, but hate freedom-trampling religious right and the Bush administration, etc.

    What do you — clearthought — like about him?
    He speaks his mind. While I would not likely vote for him, Ron Paul seems to be a voice America needs, especially at a time when dissent is only meant to polarize for political gain, or is squashed. He seems to be an almost purely internet phenomenon. Many have not heard of him, but within the techie circles he is liked more than any other candidate.

    Anything else?
    This Slate article on "The idiotic GOP effort to silence Ron Paul" is also interesting. Heaven forbid the Republicans support a candidate with rational views and a bit of common sense.

    Some Republicans are angry at Ron Paul, the libertarian presidential candidate, for his forthright stance at the Republican debate earlier this week. When George W. Bush repeatedly asserts unpopular opinions in the face of withering criticism, it's seen as a sign of strength and resolve. But when Paul asserted unpopular opinions in a debate, his remarks became the grounds for derision and threats. Paul suggested that the United States' actions in the Middle East—and in Iraq in particular—might have motivated Bin Laden and the 9/11 attackers. Rudy Giuliani immediately jumped on Paul, demanding that he withdraw the comment. Now one GOP official is circulating a petition within the party to remove Paul from future debates. This is silly. Here's why...

    Why is he in the spotlight?
    Various views and confrontations with the Republican party, as well as Paul being left out of many political events (debates, interviews, etc.) has created some buzz on the internet and in the news. His sensible but blunt views of US policy in the Middle East — e.g. on the cause of 9/11 — have caused many within his party to cast dark glances on him, but those same views have also improved his profile with his main — albeit small — support base.

    See also:
    2008 election site
    House page

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    A man (representative) of the people?

    As we've seen, leading presidential contender Rudy Giuliani's views on social issues like abortion have flip-flopped, so to speak. Although he has broken the Republican mould on such issues, like many Americans he remains somewhat capricious on abortion. That's why this cartoon is so perfect...

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    What I'm reading...

    Well I just finished Ian McEwan's masterpiece, Atonement, which I read all of yesterday. I think it has the potential to make a good film, assuming the conversion from novel to script goes fine (books are almost always better anyways). McEwan is indeed a master of a psychological fiction of sorts — creating deep and complex characters with understandable plights and feelings. Read an excerpt and review of his latest book, On Chesil Beach.

    I'm also reading the June issue of Harper's Magazine, the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs, the May/June issue of Foreign Policy, the latest Economist, and whatever interesting items I find online.

    Saturday, 19 May 2007

    US and Israel proxy warring with Hamas via Fatah?

    Did America and Israel's urge to fight Hamas result in Palestine destabilization and loss of life?

    On 18 May, Israel and the US pushed Fatah to fight Hamas — just as radical Islamic leaders have, I might add:

    Israel this week allowed the Palestinian party Fatah to bring into the Gaza Strip as many as 500 fresh troops trained under a U.S.-coordinated program to counter Hamas, the radical Islamic movement that won Palestinian parliamentary elections last year. Fighting between Hamas and Fatah has left about 45 Palestinians dead since Sunday.

    And today, some less bleak news:
    The rival Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah have embarked on another ceasefire as they attempt to end an upsurge in fighting in the Gaza Strip.

    It is the fifth such truce since violence broke out last Sunday. Since then about 50 people have died.

    As Israel and the United States instigated a fight between the rival factions, a ceasefire has followed. That actually is a sign of hope for the often virulent Palestinian political situation.

    Meanwhile, the Israeli air-strikes continue.

    Might civilians just support radical groups like Hamas more as they look to them for security? If Israel wanted to really take out the rocket positions, they could send elite, black-ops, ground forces to do so, instead of instituting disproportionate collateral damage that might just make the terrorism problem much worse. Mass air strikes do not make sense. Clandestine operations would work much better at accomplishing small, precise goals.

    Pros and cons of Israel's Gaza raid

    Here we go again: another Israeli excursion
    Judging by previous experiences, how can Israel expect these raids to make things better? It will just make Palestinians more annoyed and spark even more terrorism. But since the matter is hardly void of opinion, here I present a list of "Pros" and "Cons" of the Israeli raid of Gaza.


  • Helps with Israeli security*
  • Gets rid of some terrorists
  • Weakens Hamas*
  • Good for domestic politics; makes Olmert not seem soft
  • Secures Israeli military personnel
  • Increases power and leverage in future negotiations

  • Creates more Palestinian strife
  • Kills, injures, and destroys
  • Weakens support abroad, save the US
  • Puts semi-stable Palestine unity government in disarray
  • Creates more terrorism (see fire paradox)
  • Does not accomplish mission and objectives*
  • Cuts chances of diplomacy
  • Infringes on human rights, political sovereignty (if officials are arrested like in previous raids)
  • Palestinians support radicals more because of anguish and need for security against Israel, which appears more malevolent than ever
  • Moderate Abbas loses support of people because of above reason

    * - Questionable

  • Thursday, 17 May 2007

    Read Rice's lips: no new Cold War

    The long awaited response by the secretary of state to cold exchanges between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US Vice President Dick Cheney has come.

    No 'new Cold War', Condi RIce emphatically exclaims.

    Rice, who sees Putin on Tuesday, said Washington was committed to working through those differences, notably over U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Europe, Russia's threat to suspend a major military treaty and Moscow's opposition to a U.N. plan for Kosovo independence.

    There is also growing U.S. concern about Moscow's treatment of its former Soviet state neighbors and steps Putin has taken to consolidate power in the Kremlin are seen as democratic backsliding as Russia prepares for presidential and parliamentary elections next year.
    She said she would use her meetings in Moscow to impress on Putin and other top Russian officials the need for a missile defense to counter threats from Iran and North Korea and the genuine U.S. desire to work with Russia in building the system transparently.

    The missile defense matter is of issue as America charges forward with a new anti-missile defense system that is making many countries feel uncomfortable. Putin has already said how dominant the US is and how it presses for unipolarity in the global politik, and the perceived hegemony around the missile defense system is proof of that.

    Russia is asserting power on international stage because of its energy resources. It is a key state geopolitically and influential actor in issues like North Korea and Iran. It is also giving nuclear material to some of the worst nations on the planet, including Myanmar (aka Burma).

    It's a dangerous world out there...

    Ever wondered if a radioactive density gauge was stolen in Pennsylvania, or a bomb in Somalia killed five UN peacekeepers? Ever wanted to see where and when events like these happened? Well you're in luck.

    The Global Incident Map displays "terrorist acts, suspicious activity, and general terrorism news" on a world map, lets you search for events by type or country, and has categorical news in real time. So if you really want to remind yourself how dangerous the world is, all you have to do is look.

    Wow, that sounded like an advert. I seem to be in the mood for showing cool websites I've recently found.

    History repeats itself

    A 90-second Flash animation charting 5,000 years of imperialism in the Middle East. Explains a lot.

    Votes of no confidence

    Paul Wolfowitz will leave his post as World Bank president by 30 June. This follows a ruling by the World Bank board about evidence of a breach of ethics by Wolfowitz after he gave his girlfriend a pay raise. Wolfowitz, formerly with the Defense Department, was one of the neocon architects of the Iraq war and similar Bush administration policy.

    Similarly embattled US Attorney-General Alberto "I don't know" (60-some times in one hearing!) Gonzales might face a vote of no-confidence in Congress. About time. Already five Republican senators have called for his resignation — a very rare occurrence, especially since that is over 10% of GOP senators.

    Support for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sank further Thursday as Democrats proposed a no-confidence vote, a fifth GOP senator called for his resignation and yet another Republican predicted he won't survive a congressional investigation.

    The White House shrugged off the no-confidence idea as merely symbolic, and President Bush continued to stand by his embattled friend.

    By any measure, the news was not good for Gonzales. Democrats proposed two versions of a nonbinding resolution expressing what senators of both parties have said for weeks: that Gonzales has become too weakened to run the Justice Department.

    Bush has stood by both officials, and will most likely see both fall soon — one already has.

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    Wednesday, 16 May 2007

    Map of the GWOT, perception, and the fire paradox

    Perception plays a key role in the so-called war on terror (or, in its global state, the GWOT) and the resulting blowback of US counterterrorism foreign policy: the fire paradox. Instead of focusing just on the domestic political and strategic front of the 'war on terror', I'll look at the US foreign policy and, specifically, the issue of perception in the fire paradox, a result of American counterterrorism efforts abroad, involved in the fight against terrorism.

    Origins: radical Islamic terrorism and terrorist threat; US politics in general.

    Doing the math
    War on terror [politics, policy] (retaliative strike against 9/11 terror attacks, etc.; counterterrorism) + global (allies + terror movements, etc.)
    Perception [power] + ideology [both sides] (effect of war)
    Fire paradox [some counterterrorism feeds terrorism] (blowback: side effect of war, perception plays key role) ideological + military

    Fire paradox of US foreign counterterrorism of GWOT — Many counterterrorism policies ironically help inflame/incite terrorism because…

  • of US ideological stance (e.g., 'us against them') — (global) GWOT ideology
  • political decisions — GWOT policy
  • helps foster the idea of America as an imperial, evil power — GWOT perception

  • Five more years...

    Nicolas Sarkozy has been sworn in as the President of the Fifth Republic of France today. He won the second and final round of the 2007 French election earlier this month. Sarkozy has a number of things on his plate.

    What change will he bring? Probably some good change on the economy, questionable change on EU policy (e.g. he doesn't like Turkey); ethnic and immigrant problems will continue, and who knows how France will continue to face the important topic of globalization shaping their cultural, economical, and political spheres.

    Sarkozy is an anti-radical, and will have trouble with unions and students, among other groups. Sarkozy should implement (positive) change while he can: parliamentary elections are this summer, and Bayrou's centrist party might create a few surprises. On the other hand, the Socialists are marginalized and dazed.

    French politics are in bloom for the spring time. Let's see how Sarkozy handles himself with upcoming G8 and EU meetings. Climate change is an issue I do not know Sarkozy's stance on. Hopefully his views on global warming will be closer to those of his European counterparts as opposed to those of the United States.

    As far as the European powers go, Brown is likely to be the next leader of the UK (although Blair will stay until late June, meaning the upcoming G8 summit will be his last), Sarkozy has taken the reins in France, Prodi is holding on in Italy, and Merkel governs Germany.

    Tuesday, 15 May 2007

    This is sure to (not) help Israel's terrorist situation...

    Yes. Violating more international laws while isolating and angering the people already alienated and mad enough to support terrorism is a sure fire strategy [sarcasm]...

    BBC News:

    The international Red Cross has privately accused Israel of reshaping Jerusalem to further its own interests, in violation of international law.
    Israel's unilateral moves in Jerusalem have been condemned by several UN Security Council Resolutions.

    US and EU ambassadors have boycotted ceremonies in the run-up to Israel's Jerusalem Day on Wednesday, arguing that the status of the city should be determined by negotiations with the Palestinians.

    When the US tears away from Israel, you know there is a major problem. Invade a sovereign nation in a questionable and overreacting manner, imposing disproportionate damage: OK. Expanding in your own interests a city of heated debate, thus worsening the situation for yourself and practically any nation: not OK.

    I know Israel is not entirely to blame for the extremism shaping the region, and the many Palestinian movements, just as the US isn't entirely to blame for the terrorist movements growing in Iraq. But in both cases both countries consciously acted in a way that would worsen the very thing they are apparantly fighting against: Islamic extremist terrorism (see the fire paradox).

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    Pakistan explodes

    The row over the dismissal of the pragmatic Pakistani Supreme Court justice has turned violent. Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry had maintained the independence of the court, often standing up to the dictatorial power of Pervez Musharraf. As I blogged about a while back, since the chief justice's dismissal, there have been fairly nonviolent protests my lawyers in Karachi — Pakistan's largest city, in the south — and elsewhere. This past weekend the protests worsened as government loyalist forces clashed with protesters. Soon unrest came and tens died.

    Restraints have been put on the Pakistani media's coverage; protests have been all but quelled; and the police has been given the authority to shoot dead anyone trying to spark up more protest — nonviolent or otherwise. Chaudhry, meanwhile, has been marching in protest. A key Supreme Court official was found murdered in his house early on Monday, certainly not a coincidence. Fearful of the chaos, businesses have had to close in several major cities, effectively paralyzing Pakistan.

    Speculation has consumed western coverage of the events, as Musharraf's legitimacy is at stake. He says he will follow the Supreme Court's electoral decision — whenever the rigged election takes place — and his ousting of Chaudhry shows that while he may indeed follow the court, he will make sure it is on his side. His message is this: no one shall challenge my power. Of course since Pakistan is supposedly an ally in the American 'war on terror', the US has remained virtually silent on the issue, let alone the democracy bashing by a leader (Musharraf) marginalized by the radicals and the normal people seeing his country too close to the not-well-liked United States.
    Here are some of Musharraf's options:

    Broadly speaking, the emerging consensus is that the president has four options.

    * To ride out the crisis in the hope that the protests run out of steam. The experience of Lahore suggests that is not working.

    * He could simply accept that he had been wrongly advised, reinstate the chief justice, and look for a scapegoat. But many say it is too late for that now.

    * He could declare a state of emergency and impose martial law. That might lead to violence on the streets, and to international condemnation, including from his strategic ally the United States.

    * He could reach out to the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of Benazir Bhutto, generally seen as the most popular political force in the country. According to the rumoured outlines of such a deal, corruption charges against Ms Bhutto would be dropped and she would be allowed to return from exile, if the PPP supported General Musharraf's presidency. However, the PPP says it will not accept the president if he stays on as army chief.

    Meanwhile the attacks continue across the nation. Pakistan is a nuclear state, and its stability is at stake. If Musharraf cannot rule, someone else must. The worst case scenario would be if extremists took over. Then the world would see real madmen with nukes.

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    Monday, 14 May 2007

    US diplomacy in the Middle East

    US diplomacy in the Middle East: Iraq, Syria, and why it matters

    With the previously dominant neoconservative hawks in Washington seeming to take the back seat in US foreign policy, America has finally started to embrace a more pragmatic approach to diplomacy in the Middle East — to an extent.

    Diplomatic relations with such a tumultuous region can be hard to maintain at times, but keeping the channels of communication open is essential in order to help fix the problems in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, and elsewhere. In addition, discussion with states like Syria and Iran can resolve ongoing tensions. Unlike war, diplomacy is soft and does not always produce immediate effects. Some are dissatisfied with the outcome of diplomacy. However, also unlike war there are few instances where diplomacy actually hurts the problem one or both sides wish to resolve.

    On 3 May, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with the Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, in a much-needed discussion. At the top of the agenda was Iraq, and Syria's borders — which many extremists cross through to enter Iraq — were also an issue. Even though the meeting lasted a modest 30 minutes, just the fact that Rice spoke to Moallem illustrated a turning point in the Bush administration's foreign policy. This discussion came during a conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt on the Iraq issue. Iran and Syria are both in attendance, as America finally showed a more logical and less stubborn diplomatic policy in similar talks on Iraq in late March. One development of the summit comes as no surprise: Iran blames the US for Iraq's woes, which is only partially correct. Both Iran and America are to blame. Although the US started the war, and has made it worse, Iran and other external (and internal) actors have only inflamed it further.

    A while back, the influential, bipartisan Iraq Study Group, or Baker-Hamilton commission, recommended in its report that the United States work with Syria in the fight against Islamic extremism and to help stabilize and secure Iraq. This set off shockwaves in Washington, making some politicians, including President George W. Bush, show their cowboy international diplomacy mentality again — that is, they scoffed at and ignored the sensible recommendations. The ISG emphasized discussion and cooperation with all relevent Middle Eastern states, even the ones the White House had a particular distaste for. The report said:
    "Given the ability of Iran and Syria to influence events within Iraq and their interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq, the United States should try to engage them constructively. In seeking to influence the behavior of both countries, the United States has disincentives and incentives available. Iran should stem the flow of arms and training to Iraq, respect Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and use its influence over Iraqi Shia groups to encourage national reconciliation. The issue of Iran’s nuclear programs should continue to be dealt with by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. Syria should control its border with Iraq to stem the flow of funding, insurgents, and terrorists in and out of Iraq.

    The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional instability."

    The meeting between Condi Rice and Walid Moallem was the first direct, official, and high-level talks between Syria and the United States in years. Remember: Syria has been labeled an 'evil' state by Bush, and an honorary member of the infamous "axis of evil". Way to be diplomatic, Mr. President. While some — including a prominent Newsweek article and conservative American commentators like Michelle Malkin — call talks like this "talking with the enemy", Rice said her discussion with the Syrian foreign minister was "professional", and that she "didn't lecture him and he didn't lecture me." However positive this news might be, signs are yet to reveal themselves of direct talks between the US and Iran. America came close to talking to its Persian arch-nemesis, but an official diplomatic discussion never panned out. Neither American nor Iranian diplomats actually took the initiative of beginning the discussion, another reflection of the state of US diplomacy in the Middle East. Further, more broad discussions are also needed between the United States and Syria.

    The two-day summit on Iraq resulted in an International Compact for Iraq (ICI), a five-year plan for financial help and 'national reconciliation' for Iraq. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon placed the stated 'financial commitments' to Iraq at over $30 billion. The conference included delegations from the United States, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, and the European Union. Such a summit brought together all the G8 and UN Security Council powers, several members of the Arab League, and then some, but was still seen as a relative failure. Nevertheless, it brought more attention to the Iraq humanitarian issue of international interest. The conference also brought out a less resistive foreign policy from the US.

    As this is the Middle East, surely not in its finest days, pessimism remains. Abd-al-Bari Atwan wrote in the Pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, translated by BBC Monitoring:
    "The Sharm al-Shaykh conference will conclude by issuing a communique. There will be a photo opportunity and smiles, but, after that, the region will return to its situation and the conditions in Iraq will be even more dangerous and turbulent."

    In these times it's hard to talk about Syria without bringing up Iran. They’re currently like two peas on a pod. But things didn’t used to be so peachy for Syrian-Iranian relations. Isolation by the United States and the fall of Saddam Hussein's Iraq are a couple of factors that have led to Syria getting closer to Iran — a predominantly Shia nation and wannabe nuclear power slated as the next regional power. In fact, Saddam's overthrow has led to a massive inbalence of power. The ruthless dictator, now dead, kept Iran, and many sectarian factions, in check.

    In early April, there was a row over the decision by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) visit to Syria. Syria is a Middle Eastern nation that had been isolated by the Bush administration in some misguided notion of hope that alienating an active power in a region that needs all the help it can get would help things. Of course Pelosi’s excursion revealed a wider hypocrisy: the fact that a Republican delegation had visited earlier left the White House and the media unfettered, as did the visit of representative, Darrell Issa (R-CA), on 5 April — a day after Pelosi’s much-debated trip. Like Pelosi, Issa met with Syrian President Bashir al-Assad, a dictator, but one with the potential for more amiable feelings for the United States.

    The White House said that Pelosi's trip 'sent the wrong message', making Syria think it is a valid member of the international community. This level of logic is not the kind that should be resonating from the White House press room, nor any other branch of the government. Of course, as the Bush administration intends to alienate nations like Syria, it is doing a fine job, depending on how you look at it. While America and Syria are not very engaged, Syria is less likely to help the US on issues like, say, Iraq. Iraq is devastated as it is, and the militants and terrorists within its borders do not need any more additions.

    I supported Nancy Pelosi's recent (unofficial, non-policy related) diplomatic trip to Syria, whether a political stunt or not. By isolating Syria, this current administration has forced it nearer to Iran — by no means a positive influence. Lucky for the US, Syria is open to working with America and has an interest in the outcome of the current civil conflict in Iraq as well as the spread radical Islamic terrorism. The Syrians have even more to worry about political stability against terrorists than the US does: they are situated in the Middle East hotbed of terror, America is not. Along with many experts and foreign governments, the Iraq Study Group and many members of Congress have urged the White House to talk to Syria before relations deteriorate further and Iraq gets even worse.

    Syria’s foreign policy remained fairly moderate — that is, until they were shunned by the United States. Syria also fights against terrorist groups and ideologies like jihad and al-Qaeda, and has an interest in the wider Middle East conflicts. Pelosi has met with the Syrian foreign minister and is expected to talk with President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian press has been very friendly to Pelosi, slapping labels such as 'brave lady' to the first ever female speaker and highest ranking Congressional Democrat; Syrian — mostly state-run — media pointed to her visit as 'positive'.

    Not only does the transnational flow of terrorists and their radical movements need to be halted, but a helpful combination of good PR, economic agreements, and open-channel diplomacy should be kept with states suspected of harboring — or even directly or indirectly supporting — terrorism. Countries like Syria, which is a major hub for insurgents entering Iraq, could help in the fight against terrorism if they were not shunned by the US. In Syria's case, good relations with America could even bring the state further from more devious states like Iran. Lest we forget, terrorism is a problem for other governments too, even 'evil' ones. Most every state in the Middle East and North Africa fears terrorism of the radical Islamic persuasion.

    Channels of diplomacy need to be kept open. US-Syria relations are needed and welcomed by Syria. Syria isn’t as seemingly sinister or incessantly meddling as Iran, and its close relations to Iran deal largely with the United States. Unlike Iran, Syria is not interested in a so-called Shia crescent across the Mid-East. Syria may be authoritarian, but so is Egypt, an American ally, which shares the Syrian policy against Islamic extremism. Iran has been a (mostly) bad influence on Syria, but there is still hope.

    The common misconception is that the US talking to Syria is like talking to the enemy, whomever the enemy actually is. In reality, neither Syria nor Iran are real enemies. Al-Qaeda — or what’s left of it — is an enemy; Nazi Germany was the enemy in World War II, of course that was easier to define because it was a nation-state, not a movement or ideology. It is hard to make the case that diplomatic relations with Syria would hurt. There is also the tolerance issue. While we shouldn’t tolerate Syria’s mass human rights abuses, for instance, how was Nancy Pelosi a terrorist when she put on a frankly western-looking headdress? Just because others are different doesn’t make them wrong, yet another issue both the extremist fringe in Washington and in Tehran and Damascus need to recognize. There’s one thing the US has in common with Iran, Syria, and certainly others.

    The US and other powers should work with Syria while working with Israel in order to stifle Syria's terrorist group support. Just because Syria has a deplorable human rights record shouldn’t keep the US from talking to it. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan also commit unjustified acts, and America remains close diplomatic relations with those three countries. On the human rights front, the US should try to nudge Syria in the right direction and work on its own human rights situation. This will cover the fronts of Syria-terrorist, Syria-Iran, and Syria-Israel relations, and, by working with Syria and other Middle Eastern states, America and the international community can better Iraq as well as the states they are working with. Win for US, win for Syria, win for Iraq, and win for Middle East and international political stability; both good and bad for Israel; not too good for Iran (but they are in control of much of their fate in these matters).

    The US cannot fight its war — in Iraq or against the ever-ambigious 'terror' — alone. It needs to be willing to reach out to friends and foes alike, observing the greater good while still keeping on the ethical side of things. Saudi Arabia and Egypt, two American 'allies' and key political players, have hosted recent Middle East diplomatic initiatives on topics ranging from a new Palestinian unity government to the aforementioned multi-national solution for Iraq's woes. Be sure to keep an eye on these not-too-radical nations as diplomacy in the Mid-East progresses, hopefully in a forward direction.

    May 2007 has seen a shift in White House policy on discourse with states like Syria. While it is good that the world’s powers are meeting — hopefully on equal grounds — on a topic as important as Iraq, one must wonder what has really been accomplished by meetings like the one in early May. Keeping up efforts to work alongside the United Nations, by any means a bastion of global diplomacy, is a best bet if the State Department really has modified its policy for the better.

    It's time for all parties with a vested interest in the outcome of the Iraqi civil war to open their minds and look at the sensible options. At the moment US popularity is very low. That should only encourage and give warrant to a flexible diplomatic campaign, an emphasis on multilateralism, and the need for a massive rethink of the Bush administration's "Global War on Terrorism". A diplomatic, multilateral foreign policy campaign has been dismissed time and time again for a militant, unilateral 'us against them', 'with us or against us' policy. We've seen the disastrous effects of such a policy. It's time for change.

    Sunday, 13 May 2007

    US tries to block progress on climate change agreement

    Every nation but the United States seems to be rightfully worried about global climate change. The warming of the earth is not a light topic, and it is morally negligible for the US to continue blocking any progress wished to be made on the subject.

    The US is trying to block sections of a draft agreement on climate change prepared for next month's G8 summit.

    Washington objects to the draft's targets to keep the global temperature rise below 2C this century and halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
    With UN talks struggling to move beyond the current Kyoto Protocol targets, the G8 summit is seen as a key opportunity to regain political momentum.

    It appears all other members of the G8 are taking global warming very seriously — Shinzo Abe, Angela Merkel, and Tony Blair among them — even conservatives.

    The fourth IPCC report has come out. It says greenhouse gasses can be brought down to non-dangerious levels, for relatively low costs.
    IPCC assesses the likely impacts on global GDP by 2030 if cost-effective routes are used
    Stabilisation between 445ppm and 535ppm would cost less than 3% of global GDP, it concludes
    Between 535ppm and 590ppm would cost 0.2-2.5%
    Between 590ppm and 710ppm would bring anything between a net benefit of 0.6% and a net cost of 1.2%
    Different greenhouse gases have different impacts on warming per volume; total concentrations are expressed as the equivalent in parts per million of a certain volume of CO2 (ppm CO2-eq)
    Current concentration is about 425ppm CO2-eq

    So this newest report offers some optimism on tackling climate change. One should keep in mind the vast impact and speed of global warming. For example, it is predicted that by 2100, the Arctic will have ice-less winters.

    The economics of climate change are complex, and ideas like carbon trading are hated as much or more than they are revered. Offsets — an aspect of carbon emission trading — are also seen as a cop-out by some as they can allow the country to get around tackling the real emissions problem. Ultimately greenhouse gas trading schemes may just have to do. Taking action on climate change really is the only economic option.

    Greed is a basic human urge, and to get the support of the wider population, politicians must find some way to make climate change a 'sexy' issue. The other option is to use massive fear to accomplish political goals like George Bush has after 9/11. Al Gore seems to have picked up on the tactic, albeit in a more Hollywood manner. Policy makers must also refrain from crying wolf as it is, so that when climate change does come around full force people will believe them and appropriate actions can be taken.

    It is no surprise of course that climate change is set to hurt the poor the most. The wealthy nation's pleasures often come at the cost of the poorer nation's well being. For example, in the case of Africa, global warming's potential impact is very worrying, especially for such a poor and already troubled continent.

    We already know full well that climate change is happening, and that humans are greatly encouraging it. Now the governments of the world, even the US, must take action.

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    The Republicans' Iraq war demon

    The Financial Times speculates on fears within the GOP over self-defeat at home from the defeat abroad in Iraq; that is, the Republican White House's unpopular Iraq strategy is hurting the party in Congress.

    Talking to Fox News, the conservative broadcaster, on his visit to Baghdad on Thursday, Dick Cheney said: “We didn’t get elected to worry just about the fate of the Republican party. Our mission is to do everything we can to prevail ... against one of the most evil opponents we’ve ever faced.”

    Back in Washington Mr Cheney’s Republican colleagues are showing growing irritation with the vice-president’s Iraq war logic. On Tuesday 11 moderate Republican lawmakers warned George W. Bush that their support for his Iraq “surge” was rapidly running out. Tom Davis, a congressman from northern Virginia, told the US president that in one portion of his House district just 5 per cent supported his Iraq strategy.

    The same growing unease applies with even greater force to Republicans in the Senate, who hold 21 of the 33 Senate seats that will be contested in next year’s congressional elections. Many Democrats believe that they could improve their narrow 51-49 Senate majority next year to a filibuster-proof 60 seats or more.

    Such is the Democratic party’s confidence that some Democrats are talking of bringing about the same kind of splits in the Republican party that so damaged their own party’s electoral fortunes following the Vietnam war a generation ago.

    Bush's political power is another thing getting hit hard because of his unpopularity. Remember: money can buy elections...
    Mr Bush managed to raise $10.5m for his party at the event compared to $17m last year and $38.5m the year before. For the first time in many years both the Democratic presidential field and the Democratic congressional leadership are out-fundraising their Republican opponents by about 50 per cent.

    In the next 10 days Mr Bush will have another opportunity to demonstrate his immunity to the US public’s backlash against the Iraq war, when Congress sends him its second version of the Iraq and Afghanistan war funding bill he vetoed in its first incarnation last month.

    Some of the presidential candidates for 2008 are already distancing themselves from the Bush administration's Iraq war policy.

    Nightmare scenario for the Republicans: Democrats take a much larger majority (enough to filibuster) in both houses of Congress in the 2008 election, as well as the presidency. Disillusioned, the party fractures further and their conservative base breaks into religious right and libertarian camps.

    Nightmare scenario for the Democrats: No political gain over Bush and his party's mishandling of the war. Because of power cockiness, scandals occur at a massive rate. Loose public confidence and blamed for failings in current state of the war. Anti-war and more hawkish factions duke it out right before the elections, where their majority is lost.

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