Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
August 31, 2008

Gustav

A few days ago heavy monsoon rains led to the the breaking of a dam/embankment of the Kosi river in Nepal (google map marks, zoom in on the pin for details). The river left its bed without warning and took a new path. A few miles downstream in India the flooding left 1.2 million people homeless, many without food and scores killed.

The two governments trade barbs about the responsibility for the dam's maintenance and this horrible catastrophe.

But that drama is worth less than 20 second of 'western' news so lets turn to the real one.

Here is Gustav. Lots of wind and rain and maybe some flooding. As the warnings came early, casualties and problems will be small. Unlike in India, the refugees will somewhat be taken care of.

 


source

Whiskey Bar and MoA commentator Onzaga got hit by Katarina in 2005. The last time we heard  from her is quite a while ago. I wonder where/how s/he is now.

Posted by b on August 31, 2008 at 18:43 UTC | Permalink | Comments (15)

Georgia and the Responsibility to Protect

After the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war the 'west' moved to implement several new doctrines to justify intervention in foreign countries.

One is the Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

... populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity is an international commitment by governments to prevent and react to grave crises, wherever they may occur.

Another is the concept of 'guarantor of regional security' as used for example by the U.S. State Department:

For the U.S., NATO of course remains the guarantor of security in Europe, and therefore in the Baltic Sea.

Note that most of the Baltic Sea coast is owned by countries which are not even NATO members. With what right should NATO be a 'guarantor of security' there?

A third kind of justification are U.N. Security Council resolution for peacekeeping and general 'security' issues. The U.S. falsely claimed that some of these legalized the attack on Iraq.

But now Russia has used more or less all three of the above justifications in response to the Georgian attack on South Ossetia.

Gareth Evans of the International Crisis Group and one of the initiators of the international R2P is miffed:

[The R2P] is the approach to dealing with mass-atrocity crimes that was embraced by 150 member states at the 2005 U.N. World Summit.
...
We are conscious of the fragility of that consensus should the impression gain hold that R2P is just another excuse for the major powers to throw their weight around. It needs to be made clear beyond a doubt that whatever other explanation Russia had for its military action in Georgia, the R2P principle was not among the valid ones.

Evans then goes on to give five arguments that the Russian Federation had no international R2P right to intervene in Georgia. I find his arguments very weak and believe Russia clearly had such a right. But Evans' discussion is not to the point anyway because the Russian federation did not even claim that it acted on behalf of R2P in international law. As foreign minister Lavrov declared:

[T]he Constitution of the Russian Federation, the laws of the Russian Federation make it absolutely unavoidable to us to exercise responsibility to protect.

But back to those new intervention doctrines. The point is that the R2P, the 'guarantor of regional security' concept and the UN Security Council resolution process all have huge flaws that allow anyone to claim a right to intervene about everywhere.

The 'west', i.e. the U.S., could live with this very well when it was the only entity capable of serious intervention. Now that someone else uses the same reasoning, the danger of these concepts will be discussed differently.

Nikolas Gvosdev, outgoing editor of The National Interest, concludes:

I assume that in the next several years we may see a return to enhancing the position that the international system should be defined by sovereignty and territorial integrity of states and the importance of the imprimatur of the Security Council for any military action other than self-defense, ..

Let's hope so. R2P, 'humanitarian intervention' and the other concepts are mostly pretense for neo-colonial intervention. They always can and will get abused.

The world needs to go back to the concepts of the Westphalian sovereignty and the principle of non-intervention.

There will still be cases where some will argue that they act in an international form of defense of others, i.e. breach of law to help a third person in an emergency.

That concept is well developed in national law. But that is only possible because we have national processes to judge the rightness of such a claim after the fact. We also have national authorities that penalizes cases of wrong applications of the concept.

But we do not have those institutions in the international realm. As long as we do not have an universally accepted international system of judgment and an international capability to penalize all offender nations, an international 'defense of others' is an invitation for misapplication.

Westphalian sovereignty is difficult. One has to stand by when some internal conflict in a foreign state turns nasty. But its alternative are lousy concepts like R2P and anarchy and the sole 'right of the mighty'.

Posted by b on August 31, 2008 at 14:06 UTC | Permalink | Comments (5)

Palin Rumor

One of the women in these pictures was pregnant when they were taken.


(bigger)
Published on March 9, 2008 by the Anchorage Daily News

(bigger)
Alleged to be from late 2007, but does the weather fit that date?
A high-res version is on a Alaska government site

Which one? Beats me. The whole speculative story is here.

If there is bit of truth to the rumor, this will be another Eagleton.

(h/t annie)

Posted by b on August 31, 2008 at 7:49 UTC | Permalink | Comments (72)

August 30, 2008

Who Will Teach Palin Foreign Policy?

McCain's choice for co-runner does know little about foreign policy. But there will soon be events in which she will have to debate Joe Biden, a foreign policy old timer who met more international folks than Palin met moose. That will not be a beauty pageant as she will be asked about her position on several hot issues.

Jim Lobe checked her public record:

John McCain has repeatedly defined “the battle and struggle against radical Islamic extremism” as “the transcendent issue of our time.”
[...]
I just did a Nexis search for anything Sarah Palin may have said or written about that issue — I searched her name with “Muslim” and “Islam” or any variant of those words — and didn’t find a single citation. Of course, there probably aren’t many Muslims in Alaska and she doesn’t profess any foreign policy expertise. But if this is indeed “the transcendent issue of our time” on which just about every national political figure has said something in the last couple of years, …well, I leave you to reach a conclusion. (She hasn’t said anything noted by Nexis about Israel in the last two years either.)

Someone will have to teach Palin the right codewords, train her to recognize the various complicate names of various countries and foreign leaders and indoctrinate her with the Bush / Cheney / McCain / AIPAC War of Terror believes. That will be an intensive and intimate endeavor.

There are several folks who left the Bush administration and would love a job in a McCain one. The Palin trainer job would open that perspective. Perle, Wolfowitz, Bolton, Libby, Feith, Ledeen are all available. Who else?

While Palin is now an empty vessel foreign policy wise, within a few days she will have to say something about Israel, Russia, the nuclear deal with India, Pakistan border fights and other issues. So who will bring her up to speed?

And yes, she is red meat for the fringe and may try to turn any discussion into 'value voter' and 'culture war' stuff. But real politics do not stop there.

Bush is now trying to make sure that his War of Terror legacy survives his presidency and will be a theme of the election contest:

Tucked deep into a recent proposal from the Bush administration [..]: an affirmation that the United States is still at war with Al Qaeda.
[...]
The language [..] goes beyond political symbolism. Echoing a measure that Congress passed just days after the Sept. 11 attacks, it carries significant legal and public policy implications for Mr. Bush, and potentially his successor, to claim the imprimatur of Congress to use the tools of war, including detention, interrogation and surveillance, against the enemy, legal and political analysts say.

Some lawmakers are concerned that the administration’s effort to declare anew a war footing is an 11th-hour maneuver to re-establish its broad interpretation of the president’s wartime powers, even in the face of challenges from the Supreme Court and Congress.

Usually the Democrats would predictably fold over Bush's request. But to do so now would be deadly for their candidates. They can not avoid a discussion about this by passing it silently through congress. Therefore discussions over renewed war powers for the War of Terror will be a big part of the showdown over next 60+ days.

Palin will have to talk about this and its foreign policy implications. With Biden on the other side that will not be an easy task. Who will tell her what to say?

Posted by b on August 30, 2008 at 18:20 UTC | Permalink | Comments (29)

The Georgia Conspiracy


Screenshot of LATimes.com,
Aug 30, 8:20am EST

Posted by b on August 30, 2008 at 12:30 UTC | Permalink | Comments (16)

Billmon: Gettin' some of that "RE-form"

Whether and when and how the Obama campaign decides to "go at" Palin will be an interesting test of their political instincts and their skill with the propaganda knife. Can they define and demolish her without turning into the bullies, picking on a delicate flower of Caucasian Christian womanhood? Or will they just let Sarah be Sarah, and see what falls out of the Alaskan corruption and craziness tree? Stay tuned.

But, the politics of it aside, by picking a woman as his running mate McCain has performed at least one service: He's made it possible to precisely calibrate just how far behind the curve of history the Republicans really are -- and it's 24 years, the exact length of time since the Democrats put the first woman on a presidential ticket.

Billmon: Gettin' some of that "RE-form"

Posted by b on August 30, 2008 at 5:28 UTC | Permalink | Comments (17)

August 29, 2008

Who Is Palin?

?

Posted by b on August 29, 2008 at 15:37 UTC | Permalink | Comments (53)

Georgia Propaganda and the Next Step

The Guardian editors falsely remark:

Something shattered when the Georgian artillery opened up with a massive barrage on Tskhinvali on August 7 (Colonel Arsen Tsukhishvili, chief of staff of the Artillery Brigade said with pride that 300 of his gun barrels fired at the enemy simultaneously). What broke was not only the columns of Russian tanks the Georgian artillery was aiming at.

As Joshua Foust notes, these are ex-post-facto justifications:

Saakashvili continues to use gullible journalists to push the lie that he advanced in South Ossetia to head off a column of Russian tanks bearing down on Tskhinvali. The complaint about the tanks did not show up in any interviews with Saakashvili or any of his officials until, near as I can tell, Mr. Worms told Mr. Totten about it—now that meme is cropping up in many interviews with Georgian officials.

I would guess, if Russia actually was moving tanks through the Roki tunnel into South Ossetia, Georgia would have been complaining about it in the hour before they launched their cease-fire offensive into the breakaway region. Or they would have raised it at the emergency UNSC meeting on August 7th/8th. Or it would have been mentioned at all before August 25—perhaps in one of Saakashvili’s many op-eds in Western papers.

It is really funny how this works in the 'western' media.

Meanwhile some circles are building up an alternative to Saakashvili. Nino Burjanadze was a member of the Georgian parliament since 1995 with then president Eduard Shevardnadze's party. She later joined Saakashvili in the U.S. managed rose revolution. In April she split with Saakashvili and last month she left the parliament and opened her own think-tank, the 'Foundation for Democracy and Development' in Tbilisi. The U.S. and the Russian ambassadors took part in the inauguration.

When the British foreign minister went to Tbilisi on August 21, he had an hour long meeting with her. Yesterday she met with Joe Biden in Denver.

It is not that she is much different from a policy standpoint than Saakashvili. Her father's business money brought her into politics and it is alleged that he was a big beneficent of corruption under Shevardnadze. But Burjanadze can be expected to run a 'western' course without rocking the boat too much and without unnecessarily angering the bear.

A few month from now the Guardian editors will damn Saakashvili and laud Burjanadze into the Georgian presidency.

Posted by b on August 29, 2008 at 12:55 UTC | Permalink | Comments (16)

Billmon: Great Big Bounce

Right before the convention started, some dickhead on the McCain campaign dangled a memo in front of the Terry Schiavo wannabes in the press, predicting a 15-point post-convention bounce for Obama when all is said and done. At the time, it looked like a moronically obvious attempt to spin the expectations game (so of course, the  media zombies gobbled it right up).

But at this point, I'm thinking it may end up looking like wizardry.

Billmon: Great Big Bounce

Posted by b on August 29, 2008 at 7:25 UTC | Permalink | Comments (12)

August 28, 2008

Russia Fears an Imminent U.S. Attack

When the Russian Federation (RF) officially recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia I was quite surprised:

I had expected that Medvedev would wait, but the 'western' response to Saakashvili's splendid little war was probably too much to take.

When I wrote that I had the 'western' 'information operation', i.e. propaganda campaign, in mind as the reason for the Russian reaction.

I was wrong. The move to recognize those areas, and other Russian Federation since then, were motivated by something that is much more serious and dangerous.

The Russian Federation feels weak and is afraid that the 'west' might make another attempt to archive control over those factual independent areas.

To recognize those areas was a move to make sure that the 'west', i.e. the U.S., understands the consequences of challenging them.

Pat Lang, who sees a chance that this conflict might go nuclear, argues differently. He thinks, if I understand him correctly, that the Russians felt strong and believed the U.S. is weak. Therefore, he argues, they took those two areas because, simply, they could do so. He warns that the Russian underestimate the neocon's and that such 'miscalculation' could escalate.

I believe that the Russian Federation has a very different read of the situation.

It is NOT that the Russian Federation thinks the U.S. is weak, it fears that the U.S. is strong.

For some 12 days now, the U.S. has sent some 30-40 tons of equipment by plane to Georgia every day. It additionally unloaded 100+ tons of supply to Georgia from ships. It has some 50 Tomahawks (anti-land missiles) and some 50 Harpoons (anti-ship missiles) on 10+ NATO ships in the Black Sea. Those could sink the whole Russian Black Sea fleet and disable all RF airbases in the wider area within one hour!

There are also strategic non-nuclear U.S. air assets to consider. B1 and B2 stealth bombers could raid Russian airbases and hundreds of U.S. fighter jets stationed in Iraq and Turkey, with some routine refueling, could easily reach the relevant areas.

The Georgian military, with embedded U.S. and Israeli trainers, is still 27,000 men strong. The RF has less than 10,000 men in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. If those hundreds of tons the U.S. unloaded over the last 14 days were Javelin Anti-Armour Missile, Stinger Block2 Anti-Air Missiles and similar stuff, how well would those Georgian troops do with superior numbers and superior weapons? Those pallets were labeled "humanitarian" but did any neutral source ever looked what they really carried?

The Russians really, really fear U.S. troops at their boarder. Never, ever forget: They lost 20 million people in their last big fight.

In their mindset they assume that if the Russian Federation would look weak now, the neocon nuts in the U.S. might feel free to use the recent capacity build up to retake the now independent areas and, after that, place a direct U.S. presence in the Caucasus. The U.S. empire at the soft belly of the Russian sphere.

The RF strategy to avoid that situation is to now look strong and decisive. Make sure that the U.S. understands that this will escalate if such plans get implemented.

Therefore, the RF acknowledged the independence of those areas and made sure that the world knew the cost of interfering there. The RF feared to look vague about the issue and that looking vague might entice some folks to try something aggressive.

As the last point obviously has not yet been sufficiently noticed, the Russians gave two more big signals today.

900,000 tons of yearly poultry and pork meat imports from the U.S. to the Russian Federation is from now on no longer welcome. Small point you think? Ask the relevant U.S. producer lobbies.

More seriously, the Russian Federation Army today launched an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.

The Topol RS-12M ballistic missile, designed to defeat anti-ballistic missile systems, has hit a designated target at a testing range on the Kamchatka Peninsula, said Alexander Vovk, head of the Russian Strategic Missile Troops press service.

This is the really, really serious signal. The Russian Federation can go nuclear if needed. They do not threaten this because they feel strong. They do threaten this because they feel weak.

Pat Lang unfortunately seem to read the Russians wrong. If realists like Pat have a wrong reading of the 'enemies' motives and intention, the situation can get even more dangerous then when neocons rule with their usual delusions.

Now, please close that hatch.

Thanks!

Posted by b on August 28, 2008 at 19:58 UTC | Permalink | Comments (57)

Billmon: Really Proud

Maybe the old lie that anyone can grow up to be president is still just that -- an old lie. But now we know that any child (man child at least) can grow up and become the presidential candidate of one of the country's two main political parties -- because the Democrats just proved it. (And eight years from now, I hope the party extends that same promise to every child, not just to those of us who are gender-challenged.) 

But, one giant step at a time. Some months back Michelle Obama reportedly said that for the first time in her life, she was really proud of her country. I don't know if she actually said that, or if she did what she meant by it -- personally, I think anyone who is really proud of a country (any country) should be in a psych ward, not the White House.

I guess I can understand the emotion, though. Because for the first time I can remember -- or at least since the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach Richard Nixon -- I'm really, really proud to be a Democrat.       
Billmon: Really Proud

---
Note to new readers at Moon of Alabama. You may wonder why we have threads on Billmon posts here. The MoA About page explains the relation.

Posted by b on August 28, 2008 at 9:11 UTC | Permalink | Comments (125)

August 27, 2008

Soviet 'Lessons Learned' on Road War in Afghanistan

A study on how the Soviets lost the road war in Afghanistan can help us to assess the chances of the 'western' occupation in Afghanistan.

30 is still a magic number around the Hindu Kush: This just in from Reuters:

International troops called in the air strike in which 30 Taliban fighters were killed after the militants attacked a convoy of foreign troops and Afghan forces in the Sarobi district of Paktika province near the border with Pakistan on Tuesday, the deputy provincial governor said.

If this did not happen directly within a village the bombing may have indeed, for a change, killed some combatants. But I can guarantee that the number 30 was picked from hot air.

It is interesting that the attack aimed a convoy. It was thereby part of the earlier discussed  road war that will eventually suffocate the occupation.

The foreign troops in Afghanistan live off fuel that has to be brought into the country. The fuel transports increasingly need more protection and escorts. More escorts will require more fuel. Which requires more fuel convoys ... Guess how that spiral will end.

Here is an interesting U.S. military report written in 1995 about Convoy Escort in Guerrilla Country: The Soviet Experience:

The 1979-1989 Soviet-Afghan War pitted a modern, mechanized army against a strong-willed guerrilla force fighting on some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth. The war soon devolved into a fight for control of the limited lines of communication--the road network which connected the cities of Afghanistan with each other and to Pakistan and the Soviet Union. The Afghan guerrillas learned to ambush supply convoys and cut the roads. The Soviet Army, whose ultimate survival depended on its ability to resupply itself, fought to regain use of the roads. During the war, the Soviets lost 11,389 trucks, 1314 armored personnel carriers, 147 tanks, 433 artillery pieces and 1138 command vehicles/radios during their fight with the mujahideen guerrillas. Many, if not most, of these losses occurred during the road war. The Afghan government and commercial contractors lost even more trucks to ambush during the war.

The report includes much original Soviet 'lessons learned' analysis by the Frunze Military Academy in Moscow on typical attacks on convoys (a must read for Afghanistan and/or war geeks - see the end notes for the map symbols).

The U.S. author concludes:

Too often, the Soviets tried to use fire power in the place of fire and maneuver. Soviet commanders were reluctant to dismount troops to break an ambush through close combat. The primary reason for this reluctance was that Soviet line units in Afghanistan were chronically understrength as disease, guard details and an imperfect personnel replacement system kept units at less than 66% of TO&E strength. Consequently, there were often only a few or no troops, aside from the crews, riding in the BTRs and BMPs. The Soviets lacked the available infantry to assault ambushes.

Sounds familiar?

The Soviets had some at maximum 100,000 troops in Afghanistan but there were also some 300,000 more or less reliable Afghan forces available. In total they had the 400,000 soldiers the leaving NATO commander recently said were needed in Afghanistan. They still lost the war. The 'west' now has some 70,000 troops in Afghanistan and the Afghan army has about 80,000 soldiers. That's hopeless.

Two other factors make the chances for the 'west' to win even worse. Today's 'western' troops need more fuel and 'stuff' per man per day than Soviet forces needed in the 1980s. Unlike those they do not have a direct line of communication to their home countries.

This war will be lost on the roads. It will take another three years and the 'west' will commit more forces but that will only add to targets in the road war. The only way not to lose is to retreat from Afghanistan.

Posted by b on August 27, 2008 at 18:18 UTC | Permalink | Comments (15)

First Sgt. Hatley and the Beauchamp TNR Affair

Updated below
---

A U.S. Army sergeant outed as a murderer in today's NYT seems to be the same one that led the unit involved in last years New Republic / Beauchamp controversy. Then he denied atrocities Beauchamp reported on.

In July 2007 a U.S. soldier under the pseudonym Scott Thomas wrote about the war in Iraq at the The New Republic's Shock Troops blog. Scott Thomas described some disgusting behavior by his fellow soldiers. Such included running over dogs with Bradley fighting vehicles and playing with a child's scull found in a mass grave.

The rightwing media, the Weekly Standard, the National Review and many others, went nuts over these reports. The blogger's name was disclosed as Scott Thomas Beauchamp, a member of Alpha Company, 1-18 Infantry, Second Brigade Combat Team, First Infantry Division, and after some heavy push and pull and an army investigation, The New Republic said it "cannot stand by these stories."

At the time of that controversy, a mil-blogger in the U.S. wrote to Beauchamp's company senior non-commissioned officer, identified as First Sgt. John E. Hatley, and got this response:

My soldiers conduct is consistently honorable. [...] Again, this young man has a vivid imagination and I promise you that this by no means reflects the truth of what is happening here. I’m currently serving with the best America has to offer. [...]

Sincerely,

1SG Hatley

Today the NYT reports about willful killing of Iraqis who were taken prisoners by the U.S. troops.

In March or April 2007, three noncommissioned United States Army officers, including a first sergeant, a platoon sergeant and a senior medic, killed four Iraqi prisoners with pistol shots to the head as the men stood handcuffed and blindfolded beside a Baghdad canal, two of the soldiers said in sworn statements.
...

After the killings, the first sergeant — the senior noncommissioned officer of his Army company — told the other two to remove the men’s bloody blindfolds and plastic handcuffs, according to the statements made to Army investigators, which were obtained by The New York Times.
...
The soldiers, all from Company D, First Battalion, Second Infantry, 172nd Infantry Brigade, have not been charged with a crime.
...
The accounts of and confessions to the killings, by Sgt. First Class Joseph P. Mayo, the platoon sergeant, and Sgt. Michael P. Leahy Jr., Company D’s senior medic and an acting squad leader, were made in January in signed statements to Army investigators in Schweinfurt, Germany.

In their statements, Sergeants Mayo and Leahy each described killing at least one of the Iraqi detainees on instructions from First Sgt. John E. Hatley, who the soldiers said killed two of the detainees with pistol shots to the back of their heads.
...
Last month, four other soldiers from Sergeant Hatley’s unit were charged with murder conspiracy for agreeing to go along with the plan to kill the four prisoners, in violation of military laws that forbid harming enemy combatants once they are disarmed and in custody.

Is the First Sgt. John E. Hatley who led Beauchamp's unit the same one that murdered handcuffed prisoners?

Different units you say? Beauchamp's unit was part of the 1-18 Infantry, Second Brigade Combat Team, First Infantry Division and the NYT associates Hatley with the First Battalion, Second Infantry, 172nd Infantry Brigade.

But those units are one and the same. The unit changed its name:

On 16 March 2008, 1st Infantry Division’s presence in Europe formally ended when the 2nd (Dagger) Brigade in Schweinfurt, Germany reflagged as the 172d Infantry Brigade.

Indeed:

The 172nd Infantry Brigade was activated with the following unit redesignations:
...
1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry (reflagged from 1-18 Infantry)

It is extremely unlikely that one battalion has two First Sergeants with the name John E. Hatley.   

A few month after Hatley ordered and took part in the murdering of prisoners he denied some relative harmless though brutal behavior Beauchamp described, "this by no means reflects the truth of what is happening here." Indeed, what was really happening was much worse. The soldiers in his company (including himself?) were "the best America has to offer." Really?

The TNR should look into retracting its retraction of Beauchamp's accounts.

UPDATE:

  • The Stars & Stripes confirms the unit conversion.
  • First Sergeant Hatley seems to be up for promotion.

Posted by b on August 27, 2008 at 6:44 UTC | Permalink | Comments (100)

August 26, 2008

Danger in the Black Sea

Yesterday the Russian parliament voted on non-binding resolutions calling on President Dmitry Medvedev to recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

Bush called on Medvedev not to endorse these:

He said Georgia's borders merit the same respect as other countries', including Russia's.

One wonders why Bush didn't mentioned Serbia in that little hidden threat.

Today the Russian Federation officially recognized the independence of both regions:

"I have signed decrees on the recognition by the Russian Federation of the independence of South Ossetia and the independence of Abkhazia," Medvedev said in a televised statement.

I had expected that Medvedev would wait, but the 'western' response to Saakashvili's splendid little war was probably too much to take.

In the official 'western' media version Russia is the problem and overreached in response to the Georgian attack. But in reality the Russians refrained from conscious bombing of Georgian civil infrastructure and pulled their troops back as soon as possible. When was the last time U.S. forces attack in such a sensible way?

Meanwhile Sarkosy, with Rice's prodding, issued a letter to Saakashvili that essentially lied about the ceasefire conditions Russia agreed to. The 'western' media do not mention that at all. Sending U.S. military ships and Saak's continuous bellicose speeches did not help either. NATO introduced some punishing measures even while it depends on Russia for its logistics in Afghanistan.

Medvedev explicitly warned about that yesterday. NATO's other logistic line through Pakistan is in serious danger. Yesterday two NATO vehicles were burned in Karachi.

Now it seems that Russia had enough. Both former Georgian areas are now independent and in a next step will likely ask to join the Russian Federation. It should be obvious by now that one can not bully Russia anymore. But the 'west' still tries. This is dangerous.

There are now nine NATO warships in the Black Sea with nine more said to be coming. In response, the Russians send their Black Sea flagship, a missile cruiser, back to sea. The NATO ships have over 100 tomahawk (land attack) and harpoon (sea attack) missiles on board. Such concentration of forces can lead to misunderstandings and escalation. They should be avoided.

Russia has air cover over the Black Sea and owns a lot of the coast. In a conflict, the NATO fleet would likely get a serious beating.

But a conflict in the Black Sea would virtually guarantee a McCain victory in the upcoming U.S. election. U.S. foreign policy is always determined by domestic politics. That is what makes me really nervous about these escalations.

Posted by b on August 26, 2008 at 14:19 UTC | Permalink | Comments (80)

Behind Maliki's Stand - Biden's 'Partition Iraq'?

This is a bold step by the Iraqi prime minister Maliki:

"There can be no treaty or agreement except on the basis of Iraq's full sovereignty," al-Maliki told a gathering of Shiite tribal sheiks. He said an accord must be based on the principle that "no foreign soldier remains in Iraq after a specific deadline, not an open time frame."

Al-Maliki said the U.S. and Iraq had already agreed on a full withdrawal of all foreign troops by the end of 2011 — an interpretation that the White House challenged.

Juan Cole suspects Iranian pressure behind Maliki's stand. That may well be the case.

But the real fight behind this could also be about federalization or partitioning of Iraq and growing U.S. pressure into that direction.

There is some ominous movement behind the scenes. Via Roads to Iraq:

Kurdish sources told Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Watan that Maliki refused to include Kurdistan among the U.S. military bases presence in the SOFA agreement, noted that Maliki used Iran and Turkey’s refusal to prevent the American from establishing and American base in Kurdistan.

Also this:

The Kurdistan Regional Government has allocated 1,500 acres of land near Iran's border for the construction of a large US-financed airport.

The airport is to be built in a town called Halabja situated about 11 kilometers from the Iranian border in the northern Iraqi province of Sulaimaniyah, our Press TV correspondent reported from Irbil on Monday.

A civil airport of that size in Halabja does not make much sense. But a military airport only 11 km from the border, light artillery distance, is a dubious endeavor too. News of the airport plans is about a month old. Back then a U.S. official denied such plans.

The first big dog that argued for partition of Iraq was Joe Biden in May 2006 together with Leslie Gelb, a former head of the Council of Foreign Relations. Later the plan gained some traction with the current administration.

The U.S. knows for some time that there will not be a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Maliki that comes even near to what it wants. Is a big base in the Kurd North Iraq together with pressure for partition the alternative plan?

Maliki is against partition. His rivals from al-Hakim's ISCI are pro partition, or expressed softer, for a federal Shia state in all south Iraq. If Maliki could be moved out of the way and some ISCI politician into his current position, federalization could go forward.

This is just speculation, but for some reason Maliki felt he needed to step up the pressure on the U.S. Is this the response to the Biden nomination and Biden's partition plans?

UPDATE:

I just see that Reidar Visser finds that Biden has now somehow forgotten his partition plans.

Remarkably, however, it seems that Biden may have cleaned up his Iraq rhetoric as part of his VP bid. At least, it is quite conspicuous how every trace of his “plan for Iraq” now appears to have been erased from his website at joebiden.com, where he now instead supports Barrack Obama’s more general argument about shifting the focus to Afghanistan.

Hmm ...

Posted by b on August 26, 2008 at 8:54 UTC | Permalink | Comments (16)

Billmon: The Bloody Shirt

For two generations after the Civil War, the Republican Party routinely won elections by running against the Confederacy and Jeff Davis (with a healthy dose of anti-Catholicism thrown in for good measure). One particularly inventive GOP candidate even took to carrying the alleged shirt of one of his martyred comrades around to his stump speeches. At the emotional climax of his rant against the treasonous Democrats and their papish ways, he would thrust the soiled, ragged garment over his head for the audience to see -- thus the phrase "waiving the bloody shirt."

It was a powerful bit of theatre. But as the veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic aged and died and the wounds left by the war either healed or scarred over, the message gradually lost its kick -- even among the GOP faithful.
...
[I]f we're lucky, very lucky, what happened then may happen again, making this election the last (and hopefully futile) wave for the Vietnam War's version of the bloody flag.
The Bloody Shirt

Posted by b on August 26, 2008 at 7:00 UTC | Permalink | Comments (5)

August 25, 2008

New Trouble in Pakistan

While the press repeated Saakashvili laments about 100,000 internal refugees in Georgia, most of which were from Gori and are now back to their homes, a bigger crisis got little notice in the 'western' media:

Authorities in northwest Pakistan are urgently seeking millions of dollars to help up to 300,000 people who have fled from fighting between government forces and militants.
...
Pakistani troops launched an offensive against militants in the Bajaur region on the Afghan border early this month. The region is a haven for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) umbrella group involved in the fighting has offered a ceasefire but it is unclear if the government or the army will talk with them at all. After the suicide attack on an ammunition factory on Friday, the government, with applause from the U.S., banned the TTP as a 'terrorist organization'.

Sice today it is even unclear if there is a government in Pakistan at all. Nawaz Sharif's PML-N party just left the governing coalition with Asif Zardari's PPP. The main issue between them is still the restoration of the judges kicked out by former military dictator and president Musharraf. Zardari fears that those judges would again pursue corruption charges against him.

It is yet unknown how any vote for a new President, which should take place within the next four weeks, could happen or how the usual government business can proceed. The best for now to to overcome the blocked situation would be new elections in Pakistan. But as Sharif's PML-N would likely win those in a landslide, Zardari will do everything possible to prevent a new round of voting.

Meanwhile the killing goes on and, unlike in Georgia, the U.S. planes that might come to the Bajaur region will not carry help for the refugees.

Posted by b on August 25, 2008 at 16:33 UTC | Permalink | Comments (12)

Credit Crunch - Round Two

According to the Economist, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will have to refinance $223 billion of debt before the end of September.

But there seems to be only few who currently could lend such amounts of money and most of these are not interested. Medium players like the China Construction Bank cut their holdings of Freddie and Fannie. And while the headline of a recent Reuters news piece claimed Russia says keeps buying Fannie, Freddie debt, the text revealed something different:

Russia held about $100 billion in Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Federal Home Loan Banks' debt at the start of 2008, but last month the central bank said the investment had been reduced by about 40 percent with maturing short-term holdings often not being replaced.

The rescue plan for Fannie and Freddie is to let the Treasury Department buy new issued preferred shares of these companies. This would practically wipe out all the regular shareholders. But it would also put some debt F&F issued into technical default. This again might trigger large negative effects in the debt insurance market and in private credit default swap derivative markets. Essentially nobody knows would could happen there, but the CDS market is huge and the Treasury move might initiate a very nasty chain reaction.

Also in September U.S. companies will have to refinance some $100 billion of short term debt. In the current environment investors will either stay away from the issue or will ask for significant higher interest rates.

The difference between corporate bond and Treasury yields—a measure of risk aversion—hit a record high of 3.12 percentage points on Thursday, according to Merrill Lynch data.

That difference may soon jump to 5% and then the credit crunch will really hit Main Street. Leveraged buyouts were the rage over the last years. Raiders with little capital bought up companies and pressed them to go deep into debt to finance the raids. When this usually short term debt is due for refinance, the rates will be significant higher and many of these companies will be in danger.

Towards the end of the year the credit conditions are likely to get even worse. Last December when the credit crunch reached a first peak, the Fed stepped in and allowed banks to borrow fresh money for dubious collateral. It committed nearly half its balance sheet to the various rescue schemes. That seriously degraded the Fed's own balance sheet.

There is not much capacity left for similar tricks when this years crunch season appears.

But then, as Fed chief Bernanke once explained,

[t]he U.S. government has a technology, called a printing press (or, today, its electronic equivalent), that allows it to produce as many U.S. dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost.

Posted by b on August 25, 2008 at 15:45 UTC | Permalink | Comments (11)

McCain Announces VP Choice

This morning RBN received an early copy of Senator McCain's speech for the announcement of his Vice President candidate. We decided to publish the first page immediately and without further comment.
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Remarks of Senator McCain—as prepared for delivery

Dear friends,

for months, I've searched for a leader to finish this journey alongside me, and to join me in making Washington work for the American people. I searched for a leader who understands the rising costs confronting working people, and who will always put dreams first. A leader who sees clearly the challenges facing America in a changing world, with our security and standing advanced by eight years of a successful foreign policy. A leader who shares my vision of a government that calls all citizens – Republicans, Democrats and Independents – to a common purpose. Above all, I searched for a leader who is ready to step in and be President. 

Today, I have come back to Ohio to tell you that I've found that leader. A person with a distinguished record and a fundamental decency. A person born in your state - Exxon Mobile.

Exxon Mobile is that rare mix, which for decades has brought change to Washington, but was not changed by Washington. Exxon Mobile is an expert on foreign policy whose heart and values are rooted firmly in its capital. This person is uniquely suited to be my partner as we work to put our country back on track.

Now I could stand here and recite a list of Exxon Mobile's achievements, as one of the finest served by the public of our time. But first I want to talk to you about how the person standing behind me shares the most precious rights with all us American.

Just like you Exxon enjoys the right to speak, the right to petition the government and the right for privacy. Just like you Exxon is straightforward in using these rights.

Exxon is what so many others pretend to be – a person with sound judgment which doesn't have to hide behind bluster to keep America strong.

Exxon won't just make a good Vice President – but will make a great one. After decades of steady work across the aisle, Exxon will be able to help me turn the page on the ugly partisanship in Washington, so we can bring Democrats and Republicans together to pass an agenda that works for the American people. And instead of secret task energy task forces and a Vice President that twists the facts and shuts the American people out, I know that Exxon Mobile will give us some real straight talk.

Many of you already relate with Exxon through your 401k, pension plan, or fueling habits. With Exxon Mobile as Vice President this deep relation will expand and have a real chance to be translated into changing Washington, America and the world beyond.

continue on page 2   

Posted by b on August 25, 2008 at 11:08 UTC | Permalink | Comments (6)

August 24, 2008

Who Or What Makes U.S. Foreign Policy

Andrew Bacevich has some good insights on U.S. foreign policy, but now I am a bit confused about two different reasons he gives for its dubious quality.

This from the August 15 Bill Moyers Journal:

Our foreign policy is something that is concocted in Washington D.C., but it reflects the perceptions of our political elite about what we want, we the people want. And what we want, by and large - I mean, one could point to many individual exceptions - but, what we want, by and large is, we want this continuing flow of very cheap consumer goods.

We want to be able to pump gas into our cars regardless of how big they may happen to be, in order to be able to drive wherever we want to be able to drive. And we want to be able to do these things without having to think about whether or not the book's balanced at the end of the month, or the end of the fiscal year. And therefore, we want this unending line of credit.

So the decisions made in DC somehow do reflect the general will of the people.

But in today's LA Times oped Bacevich finds different culprits:

The very structure of American politics imposes its own constraints. For all the clout that presidents have accrued since World War II, their prerogatives remain limited. A President McCain will almost certainly face a Congress controlled by a Democratic and therefore obstreperous majority. A President Obama, even if his own party runs the Senate and House, won't enjoy all that much more latitude, especially when it comes to three areas in which the dead hand of the past weighs most heavily: defense policy, energy policy and the Arab-Israeli peace process. The military-industrial complex will inhibit efforts to curb the Pentagon's penchant for waste. Detroit and Big Oil will conspire to prolong the age of gas guzzling. And the Israel lobby will oppose attempts to chart a new course in the Middle East. If the past provides any indication, advocates of the status quo will mount a tenacious defense.

Which is it: The peoples wants? The special groups? How do they connect?

George Monbiot with another view:

If we seek to understand American foreign policy in terms of a rational engagement with international problems, or even as an effective means of projecting power, we are looking in the wrong place. The government's interests have always been provincial. It seeks to appease lobbyists, shift public opinion at crucial stages of the political cycle, accommodate crazy Christian fantasies and pander to television companies run by eccentric billionaires. The US does not really have a foreign policy. It has a series of domestic policies which it projects beyond its borders. That they threaten the world with 57 varieties of destruction is of no concern to the current administration. The only question of interest is who gets paid and what the political kickbacks will be.

Monbiot is partisan: "crazy Christian" are not the only group that politicians accommodate. Guess what Obama will do when the "Save Darfur" crazies want accommodation. Monbiot also writes: to threaten with destruction "is of no concern to the current administration." It was never of concern for any administration.

But take those partisan remarks away, he seems to be right and he somewhat reconciles both varients Bacevich expresses.

What unites these view is that the U.S. domestic political system is configured in a way that U.S. foreign policy is not created from a well understood common interest of all U.S.citizens, but from the political influence and special interest of multiple small groups of constituents.

I am still not sure whether that is the right way to see it. How should foreign policy be made?

Posted by b on August 24, 2008 at 16:52 UTC | Permalink | Comments (27)