Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
August 31, 2008


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.



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 02:43 PM | 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 10:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Palin Rumor

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

Published on March 9, 2008 by the Anchorage Daily News

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 03:49 AM | 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 02:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (29)

The Georgia Conspiracy

Screenshot of,
Aug 30, 8:20am EST

Posted by b on August 30, 2008 at 08:30 AM | 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 01:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

August 29, 2008

Who Is Palin?


Posted by b on August 29, 2008 at 11:37 AM | 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 08:55 AM | 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 03:25 AM | 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.


Posted by b on August 28, 2008 at 03:58 PM | 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 05:11 AM | 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 02:18 PM | 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. [...]


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.


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.


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

Posted by b on August 27, 2008 at 02:44 AM | 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 10:19 AM | 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?


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, 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 04:54 AM | 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 03:00 AM | 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 12:33 PM | 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 11:45 AM | 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.

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 07:08 AM | 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 12:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (27)

Open Thread 08-29

a place for news & views ...

with a link to the elder OT

Posted by b on August 24, 2008 at 12:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (103)

August 23, 2008

The Mysterious 'Sarkozy Letter'

Isn't it  funny how some 'western' politician still bluster about the signed ceasefire agreement over Georgia and Russian peacekeepers in Georgia. But they do this, of course, with a purpose. They want to change the accepted and signed ceasefire agreement.

To understand what is happening here, one has to go back to the phases that led to the ceasefire agreement. I will try to do so below and unfortunately it will be a bit longish.

So here is the short version:
The United States tries to change the signed ceasefire agreement over Georgia.

After Sarkozy negotiated with Russia and the ceasefire was agreed upon by both sides, the U.S. was very disappointed (and mad with Sarko).

Rice went to Paris and pressed Sarkozy to write a letter to Saakashvili that gives a very lopsided U.S./Georgia friendly interpretation of the ceasefire agreement. Legally that letter is completely without merit.

But now the U.S. wants this lopsided interpretation laid down only in a letter from Sarkozy to Saakashvili to became a legal part of the ceasefire agreement via a resolution at the UN Security Council.

It uses the 'Sarkozy letter' to make propaganda against legal troop movements and checkpoints the Russians are operating within Georgia. The media, of course, falls for it.

Russia of course will never agree to that outcome. It has no reason to do so and still most of the pressure points.

The situation on the ground:
The Russians have pulled their troops back into or near South Ossetia and Abkhasia along the peacekeeping lines that were agreed upon in the 1990s. They additionally keep lookout posts at Georgia's main port Poti and in Senaki as well as near the major east-west road north of Gori.

Map courtesy of BBC (the map is a few days old - there currently are no clashes)

To any strategist the reason is obvious. The port at Poti is the most likely point through which heavier weapons could get into the country. (Turkey is unlikely to allow any weapon transports that could seriously upset its relations with Russia.) The outpost in Senaki is needed to provide a secure 'line of communication' from Abkhazia to the observer troops in Poti. The post north of Gori is a lookout for heavy truck and military traffic on that major road.

These troops WILL stay there until Russia gets what it wants at the UN Security Council.

The U.S., of course, does not like that:

U.S. Deputy State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the Russians "without a doubt have failed to live up to their obligations under the ceasefire agreement."

An immediate concern expressed by all sides involved buffer zones outside of two Georgian breakaway provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia insists it has the right to create these zones under the cease-fire deal, but Wood said, "Establishing check-points and buffer zones are definitely not part of the agreement."

Wood is of course wrong. Point 5 of the signed ceasefire agreement says:

Russian forces must go back to positions they held prior to the outbreak of hostilities. Pending an international peace monitoring mechanism, Russian peacekeepers will take additional security measures.

That is of course an excellent, short but wideranging formulation - from the Russian point of view.

Any "international peace monitoring mechanism" will need a Security Council mandate or an OSCE agreement, both of which can be stalled until Russia gets what it wants. 

"Additional security measures" can arguably include about any military or police measure the Russians want to implement on the ground of Georgia. If traffic control by Russian peacekeepers in Tbilisi is needed as an additional security measure, there is little anyone can legally say against Russia implementing such. (They would not be so dumb to actually try such a thing.)

The CNN report linked above tries to explain the U.S. justification for Robert Wood's faked outrage:

In a letter clarifying that point, French President Nicolas Sarkozy -- who helped broker the deal -- wrote that such measures "may only be implemented in the immediate proximity of South Ossetia to the exclusion of any other part of Georgian territory."

He added that the measures must be "inside a zone of a depth of a few kilometers from the administrative limit between South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia in a manner such that no significant urban zone would be included."

Huh, what letter? Written to whom, when, where? CNN will not tell you any of that ...

Here is the history of the 'Sarkozy letter':
In the early morning hours of Friday August 8 Georgia opened an artillery barrage against the South Ossetian city of Tskhinvali which was under protection of internationally acknowledged Russian peacekeepers. Russia asked for an immediate UN statement to restore peace, but the ''west' declined. (InnerCityPress live-blogged the day from the UN.) Within twelve hours Russia reacted and put forces on the ground to fight back the attacking Georgians.

On August 10 the Georgian forces were mostly beaten and Saakashshvili offered ceasefire talks.

On August 11 the French foreign minister Kouchner and his Finnish colleague Stubb made up some ceasefire agreement, presumably without talking to the Russians, which Saakashvili is said to have signed. They were supposed to bring that paper to Moscow, but there is no report that they ever arrived there. Either Georgia or Russia (or someone else?) rejected that paper.

In the night from the 11th to 12th Georgian troops fled from the western part of Georgia and the central city of Gori towards Tbilisi as it was feared that the Russians would march towards the capital.

On August 12 the Russian foreign minister Lavrov:

sharply criticized the West for failing to convince Tbilisi to renounce force.

“Our foreign partners have done nothing to force Tbilisi, to use their influence with Tbilisi, for the signature of a legally-binding document" on renunciation of force, Lavrov said.

With Kouchner's mission aborted, Sarkozy flew to Moscow on August 12 to negotiate a new version. The Russians told him what they wanted and Sarkozy dutifully wrote it down. He then flew to Tbilisi but Saakashvili (and his U.S. minders) did not want to agree to the terms. The point of difference was one word in point 6 of the agreement:

Launch of international discussions on status, security and stability arrangements for Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The formulation was taken from the Kosovo case where it had been used by the 'west' to take Kosovo away from Serbia. Georgia demanded to take away the word "status" as this would endanger its 'territorial integrity'. Russia agreed because it found the formulation "discussion on security and stability agreement" strong enough for its purpose as it includes no guarantee for 'territorial integrity'.

This is currently one point of trouble within the UN security council. The 'west' wants to have the words 'territorial integrity' of Georgia in the new resolution, Russia demands the exact quote from the signed ceasefire agreement which then in later negotiations could eventually allow to split off South Ossetia and Abchasia.

After the word "status" was taken out of clause 6, Saakashvili accepted the ceasefire agreement but did not formally sign any paper.

On August 13/14 Sec State Rice flew to Paris to talk with Sarkozy. She was supposed to take the formal agreement from Paris for signature to Tbilisi.

But as the world only learned days later, she pressed Sarkozy to write a letter to Saakashvili to 'clarify' points in the ceasefire agreement in a way that changed the meaning of two important points of the original agreement. The Russians were verbally informed about the letter but said, "So what?" They made clear that in relation to them such a letter represents in no way a legal document. "Why should we care what love letters Sarko writes to Saak?"

On August 15 Rice arrived in Tbilisi. Later that day Saakashvili was reported to have signed the ceasefire.

But did he?

Late on Friday US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov from her plane after leaving the Georgian capital Tbilisi. A US official said Lavrov told Rice Russia would faithfully implement the ceasefire agreement, but wanted to see Saakashvili's signature on the document first.

Never trust anyone until the dotted line is really signed ...

On Sunday the 16th Medvedev signed the formal agreement the French sent him, but somehow that version was different from the one Saakashvili signed (after signature such documents get swapped):

The copy signed by Saakashvili somehow lost a preamble that said the document was the result of an agreement reached between Medvedev and Sarkozy. When this became known, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he would use diplomatic channels to find out who had modified the text.

Rice picked up the document (and Sarko's letter) in Paris on her way to Tbilisi. The document that was sent from Paris to Moscow for signature had the preamble. The one to Tbilisi arrived without it. Did Rice take away the part that credited Sarkozy-Medvedev negotiations? Why? (How does this relate to the letter?)

The negotiations were over, the documents signed and exchanged and the legal process closed.

But then on Saturday(!), August 16, this somewhat weird report came out:

PARIS, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Russia must withdraw from all major towns in Georgia under a peace accord it has signed, despite conditions authorising "additional security measures," according to a letter sent by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili.

"As I specified at our joint press conference in Tbilisi, these 'additional security measures' can only be implemented in the immediate proximity of South Ossetia to the exclusion of any other part of Georgian territory," read the letter, made public by Sarkozy's office on Sunday.

The French-brokered agreement drafted this week authorises Russian forces to take extra security measures on a temporary basis pending the arrival of international peacekeepers -- which requires a U.N. Security Council resolution.
Sarkozy's letter said that under the accord, Russian forces would not be authorised to remain in any major towns outside South Ossetia and road and rail transport should be guaranteed.

"More precisely, these 'measures' may only be implemented within a zone of a few kilometres from the administrative limits between South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia, in such a way that no major urban centre is included -- I am thinking in particular of the town of Gori," the letter read.

"Special arrangements will have to be defined to guarantee freedom of movement along the road and rail routes of Georgia," it said.

None of these specifications are mentioned in the very short, legally signed and binding actual agreement. Why does Sarkozy believe he can interpret that at will and in this quite specific manner?

S arranges a contract between A and B where B has to pay 10,000. After the contract is signed, S tells B that he interprets 10,000 as to be actually seen as 100. B very much likes that interpretation. But why should A agree to it?

The letter that Reuters published on Saturday while reporting it to be published on Sunday seems to have been kept completely secret until the Inner City Press (ICP) got hold of it:

While the document handed to Inner City Press Thursday at the stakeout begins, "The Presidency of the Republic [of France], for the sake of transparency, wished to make public the letter," afterwards numerous reporters and even senior diplomats in the Security Council asked Inner City Press for copies of Sarkozy's letter. Inner City Press made copies, for the sake of France's transparency.

To sum it up:

Sarkozy took a dictation from Russia for the ceasefire in Georgia, especially point 5 and 6. He went to Tbilisi and after further negotiation, the Russians agreed to a one word change. Saakashvili verbally agreed to that 'draft'. The U.S. didn't like that.

Then Rice flies to Paris and also gives a dictation to Sarkozy. He pens a letter to Saakashvili and includes the U.S. interpretation that the unlimited clause 'additional security measures' in the agreement actually is supposed to mean whatever the U.S. says it means. Rice takes the letter and the ceasefire document to Tbilisi and Saakashvili must sign.

Now the U.S. in the public media and in the UN Security Council uses the formerly secret Sarkozy letter to argue that Russia is not keeping to a version of the ceasefire it has never agreed to.

The Russian UN ambassador had rather opinionated words for that which you can hear and see in this RealVideo stream at 5:20.

Posted by b on August 23, 2008 at 01:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (52)

Veep Biden

NYT says so.

The guy likes to hear himself talking. Not sure others like that too.

Posted by b on August 23, 2008 at 01:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (38)

Around the Hindu Kush, 30 is a Magic Number

... or so it seems ...

U.S.: 30 militants killed in west Afghanistan, AP, Aug 22, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan - U.S.-led troops attacked a compound where Taliban leaders were meeting and killed 30 militants, American and Afghan military officials said Friday, but the Interior Ministry said a large number of civilians died. The U.S. said it would investigate.
The coalition said its troops called in airstrikes on the compound in the Shindand district of western Herat province Thursday
However, the Afghan Interior Ministry claimed U.S. coalition bombs killed 76 civilians, including 19 women and 50 children under the age of 15. The ministry called the bombing a "mistake."

... let's add 15 x 30 militants' killed  to that toll ....

US coalition: 30 militants die in Afghan battle, AP, Aug 21, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan - U.S.-led coalition troops battled a group of militants in eastern Afghanistan, killing over 30 insurgents, while three NATO soldiers were killed in a roadside blast elsewhere, officials said Thursday.

The coalition troops used small arms and airstrikes during the raid in eastern Laghman province on Wednesday, killing more than 30 fighters, the coalition said. A cache of mortars and bomb-making material was also destroyed.


US and Afghan Troops Kill Dozens of Militants in Afghanistan, VOA News, Aug. 16
The U.S.-led coalition Saturday said more than 30 militants were killed in three days of fierce fighting in Zamto Valley, in southern Kandahar province. The coalition said its troops along with Afghan forces called in airstrikes during the clashes that began Wednesday and ended Friday.


Pakistan army targets militants in northwest, AP, Aug 8, 2008
KHAR, Pakistan---- At least 30 militants and seven Pakistani paramilitary troops have died in clashes near the Afghan border, where security forces pounded insurgent hideouts Friday with helicopter gunships and mortar fire, officials and residents said.

The offensive in the tribal region of Bajur came in the wake of a militant assault on an outpost manned by security forces Wednesday.


Taliban commander and 30 militants killed , Quqnoos, Feb 22, 2008
AFGHAN troops have killed 30 Taliban militants in Helmand, according to the Ministry of Defence.

Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Bari and 29 of his men were killed yesterday in the districts of Musa Qala and Kajaki (Wednesday) during a five hour battle that involved ground soldiers and air strikes.


Militants release students and teachers taken hostage at Pakistan school, Guardian, Jan 28, 2008
Last week, Pakistani forces killed up to 30 militants in clashes near the city of Peshawar, after militants seized four trucks carrying ammunition and other paramilitary supplies.

Security forces recently launched a ground and air assault against Baitullah Mehsud, the Taliban commander accused of orchestrating the assassination in December of the opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto.


Report: 30 militants killed in Swat , UPI, Nov 26, 2007
Pakistani forces say they killed 30 militants in their latest offensive to regain control of the violence-racked Swat valley, Dawn reported Monday.


Forces Kill 30 Militants, Find Weapons Caches in Afghanistan, AFPS, Sep 9, 2007
WASHINGTON, Sept. 9, 2007 – Afghan and coalition forces killed more than 30 suspected militants during an operation yesterday in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

The combined force suspected targeted compounds, located in the Garmser district, were providing sanctuary to anti-coalition militants. Precision munitions were employed to destroy the buildings, which had fortified fighting positions and interlocking tunnels.


Two British soldiers, 45 insurgents killed in Afghan fighting, AP, Sep 5, 2007
Taliban attacks killed two British soldiers and two Afghan police officers Wednesday in restive southern Afghanistan, while nearly 30 militants were killed elsewhere, authorities said.


U.S. Says Attacks Are Surging in Afghanistan , NYT, Jan 16, 2007
Shortly before Mr. Gates arrived along the border, the Pakistani Army announced that it had launched an airstrike on a suspected militant camp in South Waziristan, killing 25 to 30 militants that it said were Al Qaeda members, according to The Associated Press, which quoted a Pakistani Army spokesman.


30 militants killed in S. Afghanistan., Xinhua, Jan 14, 2007
Afghan and NATO forces killed 30 Taliban operatives in the troubled Helmand province in south Afghanistan on Saturday, provincial police chief Mohammad Nabi Mullahkhil said Sunday.

"In an operation launched by Afghan and NATO troops against insurgents in Kajaki district Saturday, 30 enemies were killed and 20 others were wounded," Mullahkhil told Xinhua.


Coalition predicts "significant fighting" in southern Afghanistan, 30 militants killed, AP, June 21, 2006
Dateline: KABUL, Afghanistan Southern Afghanistan will witness "significant fighting" between U.S.-led coalition and Taliban forces for several months before NATO takes control of the region, the military said Wednesday.

The grim warning came a day after coalition and Afghan forces conducted raids in southern Helmand and Uruzgan provinces, killing 30 insurgents, Afghan and coalition forces said.


'Scores of Afghan Taleban killed' , BBC, June 10, 2006
A statement by the US-led coalition said "more than 30" militants were killed in a clash with Afghan and Canadian forces in Arghandab district in Zabul on Monday.


Rumsfeld arrives in Kabul as 30 Taleban killed in Helmand, Times Online, July 11, 2006
US-led forces hunting a Taleban commander have killed an estimated 30 Taleban militia in an overnight raid on a hide-out in southern Afghanistan, the US military said today.

The raid came shortly before Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, arrived on an unannounced visit to Kabul, where he expressed confidence that the Taleban would be defeated.


Up to 30 militants killed in Pakistan, CBC News, Mar 11, 2006
Pakistani security forces backed by helicopter gunships have attacked a suspected hideout of Islamist militants in a tribal region near the Afghan border, killing up to 30 people.

The overnight attack in the North Waziristan tribal region was ordered after intelligence reports suggested that militants were gathered in a compound along with a huge cache of arms, ammunition and explosives.


Afghan, U.S. troops battle insurgents in Afghanistan, at least 19 dead, AP, Feb 3, 2006
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) - Fierce fighting involving U.S. warplanes and Afghan troops in southern Afghanistan left at least 16 suspected Taliban rebels and three police dead, an official said Friday.
A U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara, said American forces, including A-10 war planes, responded to an initial attack on Afghan security forces by up to 30 militants.

Why did the marketing/propaganda buffoons chose 30 as the magic number?

Posted by b on August 23, 2008 at 12:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

August 22, 2008

Carmaker Bailout - Why?

How much taxpayer guaranteed loans did Toyota need to develop hybrid cars?

GM, Ford Seek $50 Billion in U.S. Loans, Doubling First Request

Aug. 22 (Bloomberg) -- General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler LLC and U.S. auto-parts makers are seeking $50 billion in government-backed loans, double their initial request, to develop and build more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The U.S. automakers and the suppliers want Congress to appropriate $3.75 billion needed to back $25 billion in U.S. loans approved in last year's energy bill and add $25 billion in new loans over subsequent years, according to people familiar with the strategy. The industry is also seeking fewer restrictions on how the funding is used, the people said.

The two highlighted sentences are contradictory. Why would one ask for 'fewer restriction' on how to use the subsidy when the declared aim of said subsidy is a quite restricted activity?

Oh, I see. The CEOs need a pay rise.

GM, Ford and Chrysler are bankrupt because:

  • their car finance business was utterly irresponsible
  • their product mix policy was shortsighted
  • their top managers are dumb but greedy people

Would additional taxpayer dollars change anything of the above?

No. There is no reason to give them even a penny. Take care of the workers that will lose their jobs but stop bailing out shareholders and stupid CEOs.

Posted by b on August 22, 2008 at 03:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

The Financial Times Construes Propaganda

Finally Russia is losing the war against Georgia!!! Investors are rushing out of the country!!! There might be a financial crisis in Russia!!! The power of the 'global markets' are fighting Russia!!! This will provide 'an important check on Kremlin decision-making'!!!

So is the Financial Times telling its readers today. Under the headline Investors quit Russia after Georgia war it asserts:

Investors pulled their money out of Russia in the wake of the Georgia conflict at the fastest rate since the 1998 rouble crisis, new figures showed on Thursday.

Russian debt and equity markets have also suffered sharp falls since the conflict began on August 8, with yields on domestic rouble bonds increasing by up to 150 basis points in the last month.

Money is fleeing the country, the rouble crisis, sharp falls in the stock market, increasing yields ... terrible indeed.

Now may we check the numbers please?

Let's start with bond yields. I don't have access to the Russian rouble bond index (the MICEX CBI), but was it really the war that began on August 8 that induced the yield increase up to 150bp in the last month?

Consider this Reuters piece written on August 7 when the war was only on Saakashili's and his minders' minds:

Russia's LSR Group placed a five-year rouble bond at par with a coupon rate above the initial guidance, confirming that funding costs for construction firms are rising, market data showed.

London-listed LSR placed 5 billion roubles ($212 million) of the bond at a coupon rate of 13.25 percent and an 18-month put option. The company earlier provided a coupon rate guidance for the bond at 11.75-12.75 percent.

Here we have a sudden 150 base point yield increase above the lower original guidance. But this increase happened on August the 7th. It had nothing to do with the war. LSR is a property developer operating in Petersburg. The reasons for its higher bond rate are the cooling property markets there and the global credit crunch.

Domestic rouble bonds may have increase by 'up to' 150 basis points 'in the last month'? But what is the evidence that this occurred because of the war instead of the general economic conditions?

But the Financial Times has more:

Data released by Russia’s central bank showed a drop in foreign currency reserves of just over $16.4bn in the week beginning August 8. This was one of the largest absolute weekly drops in 10 years, according to Ivan Tchakarov at Lehman Brothers.

The only larger drop in reserves since 1998 was $16.5bn in June 2006, when Russia paid off the bulk of its Paris club debt.

Of course you can use absolute numbers, but what do they tell you?

According to the Russian Central Bank statistics the reserves indeed fell by 16.4 billion between August 8 and August 15 to $581 billion. But that change was only -2.7% of the total reserves. The change in June 2006, while in the same absolute range, was at that time -16.5% of then $275 billion total reserves.

Weekly swings in the range of 2 to 3% of reserves are not uncommon. Between May 5 and May 11 2007, Russian reserves changed by +3.8%. In the second week of 2005 reserves changed by -3.6 percent, two weeks later they changed by +8.1%.

The change in reserve assets does not tell anything about the reasons behind this. Maybe a Russian company payed multibillions for another U.S. steel company during that week? To say it is the war that induced the current one is pure speculation. What wars took place at the beginning of 2005 and what happened in May 2007?

But the FT has a third point of evidence:

While the value of the rouble has stayed relatively stable since the start of the conflict, with the help of central bank intervention, the stock market has fallen 6.5 per cent since August 7 and companies have found it harder to raise capital as investors demand sharply higher yields to buy their bonds to reflect the perceived risk.

The Russian Trading System Stock Exchange (RTS) Index fell over 30% over the last four month. That is a big drop but it has nothing to do with a war that started August 8.

In July alone the RTS Index fell 14.3%. As the monthly RTS report for July explains (pdf):

More than 50% of the RTSI total capitalization is concentrated in the oil and gas sector. The other large-weight sectors at the end of July were finance – (19.1 %) and metallurgy (14.9%).

The stock prices for oil and steel companies depend largely on the price of the commodities they trade in. Since commodity prices dropped over the last month, the index drop is no surprise at all and has likely nothing to do with Georgia.

From the chart you can tell that there was a big drop on August 8-10 when the war started. But two days later the index was back on its August 5 level. The drop that occurred because of Saak's splendid little war was immediately repaired .

You can also see that there was an even bigger drop on July 24. Did I miss a war that started on that date?

No. On July 24 Putin lashed out against the Russian coal and steel company Mechel for price manipulations. Earlier the Federal Antimonopoly Service had launched a case against the company. Putin made sure that this got attention and Mechel stocks dropped by a third.

It seems as if Putin bullying a local company has more financial effect than Putin bullying Georgia.

The FT's evidence for financial markets reactions to the Georgian war is very thin. The three indicators presented, rising bond yields, reserve swings and stock prices, may have been influenced by the war. But there is zero evidence that they have reacted because of the war. Instead there is evidence that they have likely reacted for other purely economic reason.

But what is the FT's conclusion?

The moves show that Russia’s economy, in spite of having one of the strongest national balance sheets in the world, is not immune to global market sentiment, which could end up being an important check on Kremlin decision-making.

Based on three numbers mixed with hot air, the FT believes 'global market sentiment' influenced these.  Could it be that local market sentiment in Russia played a bigger role? Or could it be that 'global sentiment' is different from what the FT writers perceive?

Only yesterday Kishore Mahbubani opined in the very same Financial Times:

The combined western population in North America, the European Union and Australasia is 700m, about 10 per cent of the world’s population. The remaining 90 per cent have gone from being objects of world history to subjects. The Financial Times headline of August 18 2008 proclaimed: “West in united front over Georgia”. It should have read: “Rest of the world faults west on Georgia”.

If 'global market sentiment' really induced a reaction to the Georgia war on Russian financial markets, shouldn't those markets have gone up?

And where is proof that financial issues are able to influence Kremlin decision-making at all? The Kremlin sits on a soft and nice cushion of $600 billion in foreign currency reserves. A few billion more or less is unlikely to make any difference to its decisions.

I find such propaganda as the FT obviously construed here dangerous. It may make 'western' decision makers believe that they have leverage over Russia using some financial trickery.

Such believe is likely false. But decisions and actions based on propaganda induced believes can have negative effects in other areas. One must be careful to not fall for them.

Posted by b on August 22, 2008 at 09:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (61)

U.S. Troop Reduction in Iraq

So there is some kind of agreement about U.S. troop reductions in Iraq:

BAGHDAD, Aug. 21 -- U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have agreed to the withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces from the country by the end of 2011, and Iraqi officials said they are "very close" to resolving the remaining issues blocking a final accord that governs the future American military presence here.

Is there a clear definition for 'combat forces'? I have yet to see one.

U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have now also agreed to a conditions-based withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by the end of 2011, a date further in the future than the Iraqis initially wanted. The deal would leave tens of thousands of U.S. troops inside Iraq in supporting roles, such as military trainers, for an unspecified time. According to the U.S. military, there are 144,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, most of whom are playing a combat role.

What are the 'conditions' in 'condition based'? There is a big difference between 'combat troops' and troops in 'playing a combat role'. (Is killing people now playing?) All troops within a military have 'combat roles'. The last sentence is thereby meaningless propaganda.

Let me guess: There will be at least one full U.S. tank brigade and a two infantry brigades as 'military trainers' left in Iraq when all 'troops with combat roles' are declared to have gone.

Facing challenges from within his own majority Shiite group, as well as from minority Sunnis and Kurds, Maliki pledged that there would be no "secret deals" with the United States. He said the agreement would be put to a vote in Iraq's fractious parliament.

Does anyone believe in a 'pledge' by Maliki?

I am a bit astonished about the parliament thingy. The signs were pointing to an agreement that would be made outside of the Iraqi parliament and Congress. Either Maliki thinks he can find a majority for this which I find unlikely, or this is his way to sabotage the deal. "Look I have tried, but the ... party just would not go along ..."

Originially there were two agreements: A Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) and a 'strategic framework agreement'. The second one would:

broadly address issues not covered by the SOFA, including those outlined in a "declaration of principles" document signed by President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in November 2007. Among these issues: the U.S. role in defending Iraq from internal and external threats; its support of political reconciliation; and its efforts to confront terrorist groups.

Rice's current trip seems to have covered only the SOFA.

But the 'strategic framework' is much more a restriction of Iraq's sovereignty than the SOFA is? What is the status of negotiations on that one? Will the Iraqi parliament get a chance to vote on that too?

There are many open question here. Unfortunately, no report seems to answers those yet.

Posted by b on August 22, 2008 at 02:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

August 21, 2008

No Speculation?

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — The U.S. energy secretary said Saturday that insufficient oil production, not financial speculation, was driving soaring crude prices.
"Market fundamentals show us that production has not kept pace with growing demand for oil, resulting in increasing prices and increasingly volatile prices," Bodman told reporters. "There is no evidence that we can find that speculators are driving futures prices" for oil.
Bodman: Insufficient oil production behind prices, USA Today, June 21, 2008

Of course there was no evidence available to prove speculation in the commodity markets. That was because the regulators simply never looked for evidence until pressure from some folks in Congress finally made them do something 'unusual':

The [Commodity Futures Trading Commission], which learned about the nature of Vitol's activities only after making an unusual request for data from the firm, now reports that financial firms speculating for their clients or for themselves account for about 81 percent of the oil contracts on NYMEX, a far bigger share than had previously been stated by the agency. That figure may rise in coming weeks as the CFTC checks the status of other big traders.
Using swap dealers as middlemen, investment funds have poured into the commodity markets, raising their holdings to $260 billion this year from $13 billion in 2003. During that same period, the price of crude oil rose unabated every year.
"Business is lousy right now," Bowie said of Goldman Sachs. "Commodities and currencies are clearly the strongest business they have right now."

Originally only people connected to commodities, producers and consumers like farms and airlines plus a few middlemen, were allowed big  trades at the commodity exchanges. In 1991 a loophole was created for a Goldman Sachs subsidiary. A second loophole was opened in 2000 with the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000. A main sponsor for that law was Enron. Since then private, unregulated commodity trading platforms have opened in London and in Dubai.

Unless all these markets get regulated down to the original task of commodity exchanges by an entity that really does its job, the daily global cost of oil and food will depend on the morning mood of a few Wall Street traders.

Posted by b on August 21, 2008 at 12:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

Georgia Quotes

Bush said Russia's invasion of Georgia and the threat to Georgia's democratically elected government "is unacceptable in the 21st century"
Bush to Russia: Reverse 'unacceptable' course in Georgia, Aug. 11


"The days of overthrowing leaders by military means in Europe -- those days are gone," Khalilzad said.
U.S.: Russia trying to topple Georgian government, Aug. 11


Sen. John McCain denounced the aggressive posture of Russia by claiming that: "in the 21st century nations don't invade other nations."
McCain: "In The 21st Century Nations Don't Invade Other Nations", Aug. 13


"Russia is a state that is unfortunately using the one tool that it has always used, [...] and that’s its military power. That’s not the way to deal in the 21st century."
Secretary Condoleezza Rice - En Route to Brussels, Belgium, Aug. 18


Indeed, most of the world is bemused by western moralising on Georgia.  [...] It shows how isolated is the western view on Georgia: that the world should support the underdog, Georgia, against Russia. In reality, most support Russia against the bullying west. The gap between the western narrative and the rest of the world could not be greater.
The combined western population in North America, the European Union and Australasia is 700m, about 10 per cent of the world’s population. The remaining 90 per cent have gone from being objects of world history to subjects. The Financial Times headline of August 18 2008 proclaimed: “West in united front over Georgia”. It should have read: “Rest of the world faults west on Georgia”.
The west is strategically wrong on Georgia, Kishore Mahbubani, Aug. 20

Posted by b on August 21, 2008 at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

August 20, 2008

Fuel for War in Afghanistan

The U.S. plans to reinforce its troops in Afghanistan:

The Pentagon will be sending 12,000 to 15,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, possibly as soon as the end of this year, with planning underway for a further force buildup in 2009.

Those are three brigades plus support units and maybe an extra brigade on top later on. Where will those troops come from? We don't know yet, but there will likely be less forces in Iraq soon.

The outgoing ISAF Commander McNeill said 400,000 NATO/U.S. troops are needed in Afghanistan. Currently are some 60,000 to 70,000 are there. The new contingent will not make much of a difference.

But these additional forces in Afghanistan will be a much bigger logistic problem than they were in Iraq. Let us look at fuel consumption.

There are few official numbers but estimates range from between 16 gallons of fuel needed per soldier per day to 24 gl per soldier per day. This includes all needs: air support, electricity, climate, cooking, driving etc. We will use 20 gl/s/d for our further estimates.

Most of the fuel used in Afghanistan today comes through Pakistan. Without Russian now unlikely (or Iranian always unlikely) cooperation all fuel has to come through Pakistan. Pakistan has refinery capacities for only half the fuel it uses itself so the refined products the U.S. troops need have to be imported via the Pakistani port of Karachi.

From there the fuel goes by truck either through Quetta and the border town Chaman to Kandahar, or though Peshawar and Torkham at the Khyber Pass to Kabul and the huge U.S. base at Bagram north of Kabul (map).

With the additional troops there will be an additional need of 240,000 gl/day. Gleaned from photos the usual tank used by the contractors for the transports from Karachi to Afghanistan seems to be around 5,000 gl/truck. With the new troop's fuel demand, about 50 additional fuel trucks will have to arrive per day. Accounting for the air force balance about 40 of those will go to Kabul and some 10 to Kandahar.

The direct line distance from Karachi to Kabul is about double the distance from Kuwait to Baghdad. But the mountainius roads are much worse than in Iraq and pure driving time from Karachi to Kandahar is 18 hours and to Kabul 36 hours. Driving at night on the snowy serpentines of Khyber with lots of bad folks around is not recommend.

The real round-trip ride Karachi-Kabul is thereby some 10 days, to Kandahar 5 days. In total 400 additional tank trucks will be needed on the road to/from Kabul and 50 to/from Kandahar. Add 50 or so trucks that will be in maintenance at any time. Where does one get 500 additional tank trucks in Pakistan between now and the end of the year?

One will also have to find, vet and train 500+ Pakistani drivers who are willing to risk their life on these rides. Note that each truck and its content is worth more than 95% of Pakistanis will ever make in their whole life. Who controls them? Will they drive in convoys? Who will guard those?  How many troops will be needed to protect them? How many trucks will simply vanish?

A Mujaheddin in Afghanistan needs a tenth of a gallon per day, if any at all, on station and a bit more while traveling. These resistance fighters have no real logistic problem as they can live off the land.

The 'western' forces in Afghanistan have huge logistic problems. To put two feet on the ground they need twenty feet or more behind them shuffeling papers, organising and feeding the logistic queue. Their way of existence and fighting is incompatible with the country they are in. Too many trucks will not come through. The logistic lines are too long and to insecure. The road war will kill their mission.

Posted by b on August 20, 2008 at 03:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (42)

Iraq Shia Coalition Split

There has been a mysterious raid in  Diyala province, Iraq. Special operation forces under direct command of Maliki and with U.S. support attacked the local government compound and later had a firefight with local police:

The Iraqi forces arrested Hussein al Zubaidi, provincial council member and head of the provincial security committee. A nearby raid conducted almost simultaneously by unidentified armed forces arrested the president of Diyala University.

While those arrested are Sunni and U.S. media are playing this as Sunni-Shia strife, Reidar Visser finds reason to believe that this is a inner Shia conflict between Maliki's Dawa party and al-Hakim's supreme council (ISCI).

There are also rumors of terminal illness of Grand Ayatollah Sistani. He is the power that had pressed Dawa and ISCI into the Unified Iraqi Alliance and held the Shia coalition together.

If that coalition indeed brakes Maliki could rule with a Dawa/Kurd minority alliance against a very split opposition. As long as he has (military) U.S. support and is capable of such black operations, it is unlikely that anyone can challenge him.

Divide et impera has been (at least temporarily) successful throughout history. Is that the U.S. strategy behind this?

Posted by b on August 20, 2008 at 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

If the Russians were really bad ...

... what would NATO do about it?

Scenario (map):

In late fall 2010 Russian NGOs instigate a reverse color revolution in the Ukraine and a Russia friendly 'democratically elected' government takes over. There are attacks on Russian ethnics in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Some nasty pictures of these get played again and again in Russian and European media and lead to calls in Russia's State Duma for protection of these minorities.

Russia calls for a UN security council resolution to stop the atrocities against ethnic Russians. While China supports Russia, the 'western' powers veto any resolution.

On invitation from the Ukraine, Russia moves air defense systems and heavy artillery into the Ukraine. The Ukrainian and Russian governments put their armies under 'common' (Russian) command.

Under domestic pressure Russia's president sends a division of troops into each of the Baltic countries and the Russian navy to blockade their coasts. Estonia, and Latvia have 6,000 active troops each, Lithuania has some 18,000. After three days of unfair fights these local forces no longer exist.

There have been only relative few civilian casualties though. Russia declares it will respect the sovereign integrity of the three countries, but it will have to station peacekeeping forces there to prevent further atrocities. Fresh elections are announced for all three countries as their 'criminal governments' are under arrest.

'Technical difficulties' with pumping stations diminish Russian oil and gas supply to Europe by over 30%. The BTC pipeline gets sabotaged by PKK rebels in Turkey.

Meanwhile Serbia is again making loud noise about the Kosovo. Spain is in strife with its Basks who somehow have obtained RPG's and other heavier weapons. In Turkey the PKK suddenly gained access to anti-air assets and is on offenive in several areas. Mujaheddin in Afghanistan got hold of anti-air missiles form China.

Within a week $200 billion worth of U.S. treasuries and agency papers get dumped by some obscure Cayman Island funds into the financial markets. The dollar tanks, interest rates and oil prices jump.

End of the scenario.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are NATO countries. But what would NATO actually do if the above were to happen?

Will the U.S. plausibly threaten a nuclear strike on Russia and risk to lose New York, Washington and Denver over Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn? I for one doubt this.

Will NATO assemble a force that is capable and motivated to fight on the ground for those countries, a process that would likely destroy them?

The NATO Response Force consists of one brigade of land troops - some 4,000 soldiers from various countries. The bigger powers, U.S., UK, France, Germany currently have their most capable and deployable troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and on the Balkans.

It is thereby unlikely that NATO is able to immediately assemble a reaction force of some 10+ division that would be needed to liberate (and obliterate) the three Baltic countries by force. It would be able to do so, but it could take a six month to a year to get everything ready for a big attack and it would require to give up on Afghanistan or Iraq.

Meanwhile there is talk about a second Russian front against Romania to regain land access to its coreligionists in Serbia. Germany and Poland are freezing and have frequent blackouts.

I can imagine a lot of huffing and puffing in Washington and Brussels if the above would happen. There would be sanctions, resolutions and loud protests. But I can not imagine NATO to go to all out war over it.

Things would settle after a while, gas and oil return trade would continue, Russia would again buy treasuries.

If Russia is really as bad as some old and new cold warriors want to make us believe, the above scenario is indeed possible. But why then don't the call for preparation for such? Why then are they sending even more NATO troops to places that have no real strategic value like Afghanistan?

NATO is a paper tiger. The military folks know this. Most 'western' politicians know it too. But they will not do anything about it because they believe that Russia is no danger to them. Russia may be a danger to the Baltic countries, but the 'west' obviously does not care about that. It is not their problem.

People in the Baltic states should think about this when they make noise against Russia and Russian ethnics. They should think about it really hard.

Posted by b on August 20, 2008 at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (47)

August 19, 2008

VP Choices

For Obama - Biden, Hagel, Sibelius, ... ?

For McCain - Ridge, Romney, Elisabeth Cheney, ... ?

My bet is Hagel and E. Cheney. But what do I know.

What is your bet?

Posted by b on August 19, 2008 at 08:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (41)

Taliban Offensive

There seems to be a major Taliban offensive going on in Afghanistan. This coincides with the Afghan Day of Independence which President Karzai is celebrating at an undisclosed location.

There was a suicide attack by car yesterday on the U.S. Camp Salerno in Khost city east of Kabul near the border to Pakistan. That attack killed mostly Afghan workers waiting for being searched to enter the camp. A wave of attacks on the camp followed after midnight. It was repelled.

Also east of Kabul, but in a different location, a French patrol came under fire:

Ten French soldiers have been killed in fighting with Taliban insurgents east of the Afghan capital, an Afghan military official said on Tuesday.

The soldiers, part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), were engaged in a major battle with insurgents that began on Monday about 30 miles (50 km) east of the Kabul, he said.

There are no details yet. I wonder how the French will react to this. How (un)popular is that war in France? Please let us know in the comments about the reactions you see in the French media. 

Posted by b on August 19, 2008 at 06:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (30)

August 18, 2008

Billmon: Anatomy of A(nother) Fiasco

Billmon: Anatomy of A(nother) Fiasco

[I]t’s a pretty strange world where the sworn goal of US diplomacy is to put the country in a situation where it may have to go to war with another nuclear power (or back down ignominiously) to defend the sanctity of borders drawn by Josef Stalin and Nikita Krushchev. Leaving aside the raving hypocrisy (Kosovo, Iraq) it’s an alarming sign that the national security and foreign policy elites of this country – in both parties; and not just among the lunatic neocon fringe – are totally out of control.
If you caught Andrew Bacevich on Bill Moyer’s show the other night, you may have noticed that his biggest complaint was not that US foreign policy is misguided and destructive (although he clearly thinks it's both) but that it is being conducted in a democratic vacuum -- despite all the florid rhetoric about promoting democracy. We may still go through the motions of a republican form of government, Bacevich says, but the fabric has gotten pretty thin: or, in the case of our national revival of the Great Game in the Caucasus, damned near invisible.

How long before it tears completely?

Posted by b on August 18, 2008 at 01:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (60)

Musharraf Resigns

The President of Pakistan former general Musharraf resigned:

“Whether I win or lose the impeachment, the nation will lose,” he said, adding that he was not prepared to put the office of the presidency through the impeachment process.

It is very likely that Musharraf would have lost the impeachment procedure.

Until now Musharraf had promised to fight for his job, But behind the scene there were negotiation about giving him immunity if he steps down. The PML-N party of Nawaz Sharif was against granting immunity while the PPP party of Bhutto husband Asif Ali Zardari preferred this. Zardari, also named Mr. Ten-Percent for the bribes he took during the rule of his now deceased wife Benazir Bhutto, relies himself on a shaky immunity granted for his former deeds.

The current deal was furthered by the Saudi intelligence chief Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz who arrived in Islamabad two days ago. Nawaz Sharif is a Saudi client who spend his time as an exile in Saudi Arabia. He hates Musharraf who as a army chief overthrew the government when Nawaz was Prime Minister. To push him towards granting immunity now, the Saudis threatend to take away the $5 billion per year oil subsidies for Pakistan. That would have worsened the already very bad economic situation in Pakistan.

It is not clear who will follow Musharraf as president. It is rumored that the former chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Choudhry who was kicked out by Musharraf and for who's reinstatement Nawaz Sharif was fighting will be offered the job. That would keep him away from a position where he could lift the immunity of Musharraf and Zardari.

While the immediate situation will be again unruly the longer term prospects for Pakistan are certainly better without Musharraf.

Posted by b on August 18, 2008 at 06:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Amity Shlaes Forges Historic Sequences

The Washington Post editorial page gives us another classic piece of hackitude.

In Five Ways to Wreck a Recovery Amity Shlaes explains how certain policies made, in her view, the Great Depression worse than it could have been:

[F]ive non-monetary missteps were important in making the Depression great, and the same missteps damaged the global economy as well. While many are thinking about the Depression, few seem concerned about replicating these Foolish Five today: ..

First one wonders why she writes the piece at all. Only last month she claimed that the U.S. is not in a recession at all. Then why is she now worried about a recovery? (As experts then pointed out, Shlaes used a wrong definition of recession to make that claim.)

But let us take a look at the "five non-monetary missteps" that as Shlaes says made the depression great.

She lists:

  • protectionism, i.e. the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act
  • the investigation of the stock market crash by the Pecora commission and the creation of the SEC
  • tax increases "during a downturn" like done by Hoover and FDR
  • big government programs like the new deal
  • some unspecified "inconsistencies" she attributes to the Roosevelt administration

If these non-monetary policies made the depression great or greater, than we should see some relation of their implementation to the Gross Domestic Product development that followed them.

Now take a look at this graph.

GDP numbers according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (bigger graph)

The first misstep according to Shlaes was the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act which increased tariffs on imports to the U.S. by up to 50%. It was put into law in June 1930 by the Republican congress under Hoover. That would be at point A on the GDP chart. Smoot-Hawley was indeed bad. Other countries followed the U.S. tariff policy and U.S. exports to them contracted. The U.S. GDP went down further. I agree with Shlaes that this was bad policy that deepened the depression.

Shlaes point two is banking regulation. In March 1932 the United States Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs established hearings to investigate the causes of the Wall Street Crash of 1929. It was more or less a Republican sham to show that they were doing 'something'. The commission only started to really investigate after the Democrats took over Congress in November 1932 and in early 1933 appointed Ferdinand Pecora as commission counselor. Pecora found many malpractices on Wall Street and his investigation led to the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission. We can put these events at point B of the GDP chart. They were followed by steep GDP increases.

The third "misstep" for Shlaes are tax-increases implemented by Hoover and FDR. Here she supresses historic events.

Hoover initially slashed income taxes and this was an important reason that started the Great Depression. At the end of his rule, Hoover increased taxes which helped to get out of the Great Depression. Wikipedia:

Prior to the start of the Depression, Hoover's first Treasury Secretary, Andrew Mellon, had proposed, and saw enacted, numerous tax cuts which cut the top income tax rate from 73% to 24%. As the depression worsened, Congress, desperate to increase federal revenue, enacted the Revenue Act of 1932. The Act increased taxes across the board, and the percentage increased with income, to near pre-1928 levels for top income earners. It also implemented a 13.75% tax on corporations.

Hoover's tax decrease in 1929/30 was followed by four years of decreasing GDP. His  "misstep" tax increase was enacted in 1932 and took effect only in 1933, point C in our graph. From there on GDP went up.

Now onto the New Deal programs which Shaes finds bad. The first New Deal package was legislated in 1933, the second one in 1935/36. They are marked D on the above chart. With the implementation of these points GDP went up further.

Shlaes, according to her Wikipedia entry "has no formal economic training." That certainly shows. She also seems to have zero training in history as she is unable to organize the sequence of events in a coherent way. Events and policies that obviously led to increases in GDP are attributed as having deepened the depression.

Shlaes uses the false history she creates and promotes to warn against certain policies the Democrats plan to implement. These policies are related to some that were implemented in the 1930s and were helpful to get the U.S. out of the Great Depression.

Because Shlaes is unwilling to admit such, she simply forges historic sequences. That is Great Hackitude just as the Great Depression was great for the people living through it.

Posted by b on August 18, 2008 at 05:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

August 17, 2008

McCain's Doctrine Applied to Georgia

He has made the principle that the exercise of military power sets the bargaining table for international relations a consistent theme of his career ever since, and in his 2002 memoir he wrote that one of his lifelong convictions was “the imperative that American power never retreat in response to an inferior adversary’s provocation.”
NYT: Response to 9/11 Offers Outline of McCain Doctrine

So how would McCain, in the position of the President of the Russian Federation, have handled Saakashvili's splendid little war.

Let's look at the first issue I highlighted: "military power sets the bargaining table"

With that conviction, McCain certainly would not have refrained from bombing the runway of the Tbilisi's international airport. He would not have let happen the Georgian army's hasty retreat from Gori to Tbilisi without creating another highway of death. He would not have allowed the U.S. to fly in those 2,000 Georgian reinforcement troops while the fighting was still going on. Those are indeed the things that 'set the bargain table' and that now seem to bit a troublesome for the Russian's.

Imagine how none of the stream of international 'guests' that propped up Saak in the media over the last days could have reached Tbilisi. Imagine that his Georgian army would have been destroyed down to the very last tank on the road to Tbilisi. Imagine pictures of Georgian soldiers sitting for days on some U.S. air base in Iraq while the infrastructure of their homeland gets dismantled.

McCain as Russian president would have made sure that all those things would have happened to further the Russian position at the bargaining table.

I have seen comments that the Russian's have 'Ledeenized' Georgia. Those comments referred to something McCain's fellow neocon Michael Ledeen once said:

"every now and again the United States has to pick up a crappy little country and throw it against a wall just to prove we are serious."

The Russians certainly did not do that to Georgia. The military doctrine that encapsulates "throw it against a wall" is "shock and awe". But Tbilisi still has electricity, the hospitals are intact, the TV stations are broadcasting and its international telecommunications lines are still working. Shock and awe, or 'Ledeenizing', would have eliminated those comforts. But that did not happen to Georgia.

With McCain as Russian president it would have happened.

The second thing I highlighted are these "provocations" of an "inferior adversary". The biggest recent one I can think of was the big July maneuver in Georgia with the participation of over 1,000 U.S. troops. If McCain would have ruled in the Kremlin, that would have been enough provocation to get rid of Saakashvili as soon as those U.S. maneuver troops left.  There were many earlier provocations where Saak loudmouthed against Russia, had his people mortar and snipe Ossetians and the Russian peacekeepers and gave other reasons to get slapped hard like he should have been for his asking for NATO membership.

The Russians have been relatively quiet about all those provocations. With McCain ruling over the Russian Federation they would have answered with force simply because anything else could have been seen as "retreat".

With McCain in the lead, instead of first Putin and then Medvedev, Russia would by now probably be in a better global political situation. Short term, bullying works ...

But for simple Georgians, the situation would be much worse. No electricity, no water, no food, many, many dead civilians ... simply think Baghdad or even Fallujah.

It is good that McCain is not ruling Russia.

Posted by b on August 17, 2008 at 02:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (26)


Should Moscow not scale back its actions, then the potential for escalation cannot be discounted. As a White House official explained to us: “This is a very appealing issue for Americans. We don’t like big nations bullying small ones.

Swoop - Georgia: Checks on Pax Americana or a New Beginning?


"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean-neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master -- that's all."

Lewis Carroll - Through The Looking Glass

Posted by b on August 17, 2008 at 09:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (25)

August 16, 2008

The Road War in Afghanistan

Much of the ring road -- we call it the ring road -- that links key provincial capitals to Kabul, is pretty well complete. And that's important, because, first of all, road building brings jobs to young men who might be recruited to the Taliban. But roads enable people to get commerce to centers of trade. In other words, roads promote enterprise. Enterprise provides hope. Hope is what defeats this ideology of darkness.
President Bush Discusses Progress in Afghanistan, Global War on Terror , Feb 15, 2007

Yes, these roads bring jobs. For young Chinese men.

Anyway. It seems like "this ideology of darkness" recently has some astonishing successes:

Between 100 to 150 US troops have withdrawn from a strategically important district of the the Afghan province of Ghazni, officials say.

They say that soldiers retreated from the district of Nawa after repeated attacks by Taleban insurgents.

It is not only the soldiers who fled adjusted the front:

"All police and government staffs have evacuated from the Nawah district this morning due to lackness of essential supplies," the official said, "Taliban militants took the district center without using a bullet."

The district, marked green, is of special interest because it is right next to the (blue) Afghan ring road part that connects Kandahar and Kabul (Bagram), the two biggest foreign bases, and eventually to Pakistan.

complete map
Note: the red roads are 'projects'. They do not (yet) exist in a meaningful way.


All the roads building plans are sold as economic development. The '4GW thinkers' also propagate roads as a tool of counterinsurgency. Joshua Foust took that road nonsense apart.

Roads are not development or counterinsurgency. Their primary use is as logistic 'lines of communication' for the occupation forces.

Positioned in Nawa, the Taliban can now easily cut off road bound logistics for the Canadian forces in Kandahar and for the British and U.S. forces in Helmand province, west of Kandahar.

A recent report described such bloody attacks:

The soldiers died as their vehicles were hit by mines and rocket-propelled grenades. At least one was dragged off and chopped to pieces, according to Afghan and Western officials, the body so badly mutilated that at first the military announced it had found the remains of two men, not one, in a  field.

The roads, instead of leading to development, are the primary target of the resistance because the occupation forces can not sustain without those.

The insurgents have made the route a main target, apparently with the intention of undercutting Afghanistan's economy and infrastructure, said an Afghan military spokesman, General Zaher Azimi.

The road has become the site of excessive carnage in the past six weeks, disrupting supply lines for U.S. and NATO forces and tying down Afghan Army forces. One of the worst attacks occurred in Salar on June 24, when some 50 fuel tankers and food trucks carrying supplies for the U.S. military were ambushed.

It is not only the military that is eaffected here:

The chill that has descended on the humanitarian relief community in Afghanistan came after a driver and the three workers, including Canadians Shirley Case and Jacqueline Kirk, were shot to death in a Taliban ambush south of Kabul on Wednesday.

Their employer, the New York-based International Rescue Committee, announced it would suspend its aid programs in Afghanistan indefinitely. The group had been active in the country for 20 years.

That aid group could work under the Taliban, but not under the U.S./NATO occupation. This is a ramification form the militarization of aid.

The roads are a primary means of occupation. They are thereby also the primary target of the resistance. This impedes any aid and development work in Afghanistan.

These attacks initiate a downward spiral:

Less road security -> less aid -> less Afghan development -> less public support for foreign occupation -> more support for the Taliban -> more attacks on the roads -> less road security.

It will hard, if it is possible at all, to break that cycle.

Posted by b on August 16, 2008 at 12:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (65)

August 15, 2008

Europe's Interests - According to Rightwing Bloggers

Saak's latest propaganda stunt: "It's the European's fault!"

He lashed out at “most of the European countries” for their “muted and quiet” reaction to what he called was Russia’s preparation of Georgia’s invasion in recent months.

Oh well ...

But for some rightwing U.S. bloggers that certainly is a good occasion for the regular Europe bashing.

Zenpundit argues that (western) Europe interest in Georgia is bigger than U.S. interest:

Isn’t Saakashvili America’s “special project” ( to quote Russia’s Foreign Minister - some Putin toady, name unimportant, he warms a chair). Well, not really. My friend Dave Schuler has an outstanding post on Europe’s stake in Georgia. It’s a lot larger than is ours:

….Germany’s ties with Georgia are, if anything, closer. Georgia is Germany’s fifth largest trading partner. I presume that much of this trade is a consequence of Georgia’s two pipelines. Energy independence is as much a political hot topic in Germany as it is here but the term means mostly not being so terribly dependent on Russia. The path to greater energy independence for Germany lies through Georgia.

….In 2007 FDI in Georgia exceeded the $1 billion mark. A substantial proportion of that was EU countries.

What outstanding nonsense. The source that Dave Schuler dude cites is a Georgian foreign ministry site which says:

Germany is Georgia’s 5th biggest trade partner.

Is there a difference between "Germany is Georgia’s 5th biggest trade partner" and "Georgia is Germany’s fifth largest trade partner"?

You bet:
(all numbers 2007 (pdf))

  • German total imports: €771 billion
  • German total exports: €967 billion
  • German imports from Georgia: €54.7 million
  • German exports to Georgia: €215 million
  • Georgia country rank in German imports: 119
  • Georgia country rank in German exports: 95

Direct investment from Germany to Georgia in 2007 was $20 million according to the Georgian government link above. Total German foreign direct investment is around a trillion bucks or so.

So Georgia imports 0.2% of total German exports, a few Mercedes limousines for Saak's friends (payed with U.S tax dollars btw) and Germany buys some vegetables from there. Is that a sound reason for Germans and other Europeans (their numbers look similar in proportion) to get involved in a stupid border war?

But facts don't bother such strategic thinkers as Zenpundit all that much.

Another example: The Small War Journal starts with the wrong assertion that Putin was leading the war on the Russian side. It also asserts that Russia won the media campaign. That must be the reason why most U.S. MSN sources forget to mention that Georgia started this war. The solution against such wars, as SWJ argues, is to pump more arms into countries with lunatic leaders like Georgia.

C'mon folks. Even as rightwing nuts you can do better.

Georgia is a border province of Russia and a U.S. neocon ideology project. It has zero to do with Europe. There is zero economic or ideologic interest in the major European states to get seriously involved in the current brawl. The major BTC oil pipeline through Georgia the U.S. continuously jumps up and down about is ending at the south coast of Turkey, not in central Europe, and its purpose is to feed Israel. Except for transit fees to Turkey it is completely irrelevant for European strategies.

Get real. This border skirmish is about Russia's undeniable realm of interest. Internationally there is nothing realy at stake at all.

Posted by b on August 15, 2008 at 04:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (63)

Georgia's War Furthers Re-balancing

Saakashvili's splendid little war is already changing the calculations of U.S. allies.

When British Petroleum shut down the natural gas pipeline from Azerbaijan, through Georgia into Turkey because of the war, Iran increased its gas exports to Turkey by 60% to make up for the difference.

An second pipeline form Iran to Turkey is planed and an Memorandum of Understanding had been signed some time ago. This week the Iranian president Ahmadinejad visited Turkey and both sides had planed to use the occasion to finally sign the deal.

But suddenly the deal was "difficult" and Turkish media reported about alleged unacceptable Iranian price condition. The Financial Times was more frank and wrote:

The US on Wednesday warned Turkey not to strike an energy deal with Iran that undermined diplomatic efforts to halt Tehran’s nuclear programme, on the eve of a visit to Ankara by Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the Iranian president.
The US state department said it expected Ankara to avoid a deal that would harm diplomatic efforts but made clear its opposition to any agreement that eased pressure on Tehran.

The pressure (applied how exactly?) from the U.S. did for now what it was supposed to do. The deal was not signed.

But what is Turkey to do?

It gets most of the natural gas it uses from Russia through two Black Sea pipelines (map (pdf)). One is routed north around the Black Sea towards west Turkey and one is running underwater through the Black Sea to north-east Turkey. The second source for natural gas in Turkey is a pipeline from Iran and the third and smallest source is the line that runs through Georgia.

The U.S. is constantly warning European countries not to become too dependent on Russian energy sources. The U.S. does not want European countries to make gas deals with Iran. Now the U.S. neocon puppet in Tbilisi has proven that his country is unstable and not a reliable pipeline partner.

Ankara will take a while to digest the situation, but as the U.S. is unable to deliver reliable energy to Turkey it will have at a point to decide against the U.S. The Turkey-Iran deal will be signed silently at the next possible occasion.

Comments the Turkish daily Hurriyet:

Ankara now has to define a new balance for its relations with its traditional allies in the West and its emerging energy partner, Russia.

The task is becoming far more difficult given the recent international row with another regional energy player, Iran, over its nuclear program. Turkey and Iran had failed to agree on the deal to build a new pipeline as some speculate the failure was to avoid further unease with the U.S.

Turkey should develop a new strategy in the new grand chess board with longer term planning if it is to maintain the balance and not jeopardize its aim of becoming a key energy transit country.

The language is bit veiled, but the phrase "to maintain the balance" when Turkey is a NATO country with a huge U.S. airbase on its ground, i.e. not balanced, tells that Turkey will need to move into a more Russia/Iran and less U.S. friendly direction. Similar calculations will be made in northern Europe countries.

The U.S. has supported and advertised the gas and oil pipeline projects through Georgia as an alternative to Russian and/or Iranian supply. This was an argument to keep U.S. allies in Europe away from deeper connections with Russia and/or Iran. The alternative and that argumentation has now proven to be unreliable.

A lot of re-balancing of relations will have to follow Saak's lunatic little war.

Posted by b on August 15, 2008 at 11:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (28)

War Sells

This site does not have any advertising and I do not make any income writing here. I do not even care much about how many people read what I write. If I would certain issues and opinions would be off limits because they turn away part of the potential readership.

I hate wars. But any media that depends on circulation numbers and advertising revenue has reason to love them. Especially "splendid little wars" like the one we witnessed over the last week.

Here is why:


War sells.

And to cover small wars is easy and cheap as long as one does not bother to dig into the backgrounds.

One takes the melodramatic propaganda of the 'good' side, adds a nasty statement from the 'evil' one and mixes in some of the usual partisan 'expert' voices. Arrange some dubious but symbolic agency pictures with the story and there is 'news fit to print.'

I tried to do different and hope it is that what doubled the visits here. But having worked in several (new) media business, I can assure you that every news-site, no matter badly it covered the war, got some bump out of this.

Is there a human desire to read about inhuman stuff?

MoA coverage of the 2008 war over South Ossetia:

August 8
Saakashvili Wants War - He Will Get It
The South Ossetian War
August 9
Endgame Plans for South Ossetia
August 10
Wrap Up - For Now
August 11
Sack Saak
August 12
Israel Trains Quad Bikers?
Between Two Empires
August 13
Caption Contest - Tbilisi Version
Doubling Down?
August 14
Pressing Russia? How?

Posted by b on August 15, 2008 at 04:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (35)

August 14, 2008

Juan Cole - Uninformed or Lying?

In a Salon article published today Juan Cole asserts in the first sentence:

Aug. 14, 2008 | The run-up to the current chaos in the Caucasus should look quite familiar: Russia acted unilaterally rather than going through the U.N. Security Council.

That is either a fat all out lie, or a mistake by Cole and the Salon fact-checkers made out of lack of research and/or knowledge.

Consider this Reuters wire report published on August 8, the day the conflict over South Ossetia went hot:

At the request of Russia, the U.N. Security Council held an emergency session in New York but failed to reach consensus early Friday on a Russian-drafted statement.

The council concluded it was at a stalemate after the US, Britain and some other members backed the Georgians in rejecting a phrase in the three-sentence draft statement that would have required both sides "to renounce the use of force," council diplomats said.

According to this time line the UN council rejected the simple Russian request to "to renounce the use of force" at 06:51 GMT, some 4-6 hours after the Georgian forces started attacked the city of Tskhinvali with a full artillery barrage.

So Russia did not go through the security council? No! The 'western' war mongers in the security council cheered on the Georgian assault when they assumed that there was still a chance for their client puppet in Georgia to win the blood bath.

Cole also wants to equate Bush's actions on a rather peaceful Iraq with Russia's actions on Georgia's aggression. He falsely assumes Putin in the lead in Russia and for some reason mixes in Chavez, Abbas and various other not comparable cases. He ends:

But Russia is now demonstrating that the Bush doctrine can just as easily be the Putin doctrine.

Has Putin led his country into any preemptive war for false reasons? Has he instigated in his time as president brutal 'regime changes' by force in four countries - Afghanistan, Haiti, Somalia, Iraq? Have his doings killed more than a million people?

At home: Has Putin led his country into an economic crisis? Did he let the billionaires investment bank bandits rob the poor people and the country's resources or did he fight them and tried to regain national assets?

Putin is certainly not a holy man. He has his mistakes. I personally don't like him much. But to compare him to Bush is pure libel.

To do so while ignoring easily available facts puts Cole in the same league as 'experts' like Krauthammer, Kagan or Ledeen.

Cole is professor for Middle East history. What is his qualification on the Caucasus or Russian- Georgian relations? Does he really want to end up in that 'useless pundit' category?

Posted by b on August 14, 2008 at 04:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)

Putin Rules! Does He?

The 'western' media are trying some Kremlinology and come up with the judgment that Putin rules in Russia.

[T]he events of the past five days wiped away any pretense that President Dmitry Medvedev runs the country.

Dmitry Medvedev is the President of the Russian Federation, the head of the state, the person that determines foreign policy relations and the supreme commander of the Russian military. Vladimir Putin is the Prime Minister, the head of the government administration.

Medvedev is the current ruler of Russia. Not only formally as the last week's action has shown him very much in the lead on everything.

But in its typical behavior the media are ignoring the facts. The Washington Post for example bases its judgment on easy to test quotes like this one:

Tatyana Parkhalina, director of the Center for European Security, said she was struck by the fact that Medvedev made no significant statement about the conflict in the early going and was still vacationing on the Volga River with his family while Putin was headed toward the front.

No significant statement? Volga River while Putin was heading to the front? That is flat out wrong.

When the conflict over South Ossetia went hot on August 8 Putin was in China and had little to say about it.

The same day Medvedev led an emergency Russian Security Council session in Moscow. Medvedev ordered the Russian military to intervene. He commanded emergency humanitarian aid:

"The president has instructed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu and Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev to provide humanitarian aid to people affected by the escalation of the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict," the Kremlin press service said.

On the 9th Medvedev phoned with Bush and announced Russia's war objectives.

Later on the 9th, Putin, on his way back from China, visited a refugee camp in North Ossetia, not the frontline, and the next day he reported back to Medvedev and recommended financial help for the refugees. The behavior is appropriate for his position as Prime Minister.

It was Medvedev who ordered the fighting to stop. It was Medvedev who negotiated the ceasefire with Sarkozy. It was Medvedev who announced the success of his forces.

Now tell me how this pictures a Medvedev who is not in control?

Putin and Medvedev started working together in 1991. They trust each other, have the same policies and there is simply no need for Putin being in the lead over Medvedev. They play roles. But not good cop, bad cop as some assume. Medvedev had just as harsh words for Saakashvili as Putin had. They have the roles of President and Prime Minister and in the play about South Ossetia the President's role is naturally bigger.

The psychology of a secular, black belt judoka, secret servce operative differs from that of a religious business lawyer. To assume that Putin is the one who leads Russia is a mistake. That mistake might lead to political misjudgment over Russia's policies aims and Russian political behavior.

Check the timeline of the 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th and see if you can find any hint that Medvedev was not leading the action on every day.

But according to the press Putin rules and Russia lost the war. You only have to believe it.

Posted by b on August 14, 2008 at 01:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Pressing Russia? How?

So is Russia "violating the ceasefire"agreement as Bush says? The NYT says no:

Negotiating from a position of strength, the Russians demanded the fifth point, allowing their troops to act in what was termed a peacekeeping role, even outside the boundaries of the separatist enclaves where the war began, with an understanding that later an international agreement might obviate this need.

The vague language of the fifth point allows Russian peacekeepers to “implement additional security measures” while awaiting an international monitoring mechanism.

Currently the Russians are visiting Georgian military bases in Gori, Poti and Senaki to destroy or take away weapons they find and to blow up the ammunition depots. It would be too dangerous to leave those unguarded, wouldn't it?

When the Russian troops will leave in a day or two days the western part of Georgia will effectively be demilitarized. The U.S. weapon industry has reason to jubilate.

Uncharacteristically Saakashvili has not given a public peep today. Has he finally been told to shut up or is cooking up something new? Yesterday he kind of admitted that his original military attack plan failed:

Saakashvili told a group of foreign journalists in a conference call earlier on August 13, that the plan was to stop the Russian forces at the Roki Tunnel in the north of South Ossetia, which links the breakaway region with Russia’s North Ossetian Republic.

“Once they got to Tskhinvali, they could march on the capital. We tried to stop them in the mountains before Tskhinvali, but we were too late and there were too many of them,” Saakashvili said according to the transcript provided by the President’s press office.

Charles Krauthammer comes up with ideas on how to "punish" Russia. At least he acknowledges that there is no military options. But he recommends to abolish the NATO-Russia Council, bar Russia's entry to the WTO, dissolve the G-8 and to boycott the Winter Olympics at Sochi in 2014.

None of those points is likely to get implemented. When one thinks about it, Russia has more abilities to hurt the U.S. than vice versa.

  • With over $500 billion in foreign currency reserves, most of them in U.S. treasuries, Russia can notch up U.S. interest rates by simply announcing to sell a few of those.
  • Part of the NATO supplies to Afghanistan runs through Russia. Does the U.S. really want that line to be closed?
  • Russia could reduce oil production by say 10% and bring oil to $200/barrel.
  • ...

It does not make sense to pressure Russia because Russia can pressure back and unlike U.S. politicians Putin does not care what Krauthammer and other lunatics write.

But the dumbest idea Krauthammer comes up with is this:

President Bush could cash in on his close personal relationship with Putin by sending him a copy of the highly entertaining (and highly fictionalized) film "Charlie Wilson's War" to remind Vlad of our capacity to make Russia bleed. Putin would need no reminders of the Georgians' capacity and long history of doing likewise to invaders.

I am not sure that Putin would relate "Charlie Wilson's War" with "Georgians' capacity and long history of doing likewise to invaders".

You see, Georgia was annexed by Czar Paul I in 1800 and defended by Russians against Persian incursions. It was ruled by Russia until 1918. Then, during the Russian civil war, Georgia declared independence and with British help stayed independent until 1921 when it became part of the USSR. It again claimed independence in 1991 but immediately lost South Ossetia and Abkhasia. So out of 200 years Georgia was partly independent for about 12 years. That and the lousy performance of its troops last week indeed tells you something about "Georgians' capacity and long history" of making invaders bleed.

But Putin while watching "Charlie Wilson's War" might indeed get the idea that an occupation force in Afghanistan can be beaten and dislodged by supplying the Taliban with money and anti-air missiles. He may even thank Krauthammer for that fabulous idea.

Posted by b on August 14, 2008 at 10:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (33)

August 13, 2008

Doubling Down?

Is Bush doubling down?

President Bush said Wednesday that the Pentagon had begun a “vigorous and ongoing” humanitarian mission to ease the suffering in Georgia, and that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would travel to France and then to Georgia to work for a settlement of the crisis.
Mr. Bush said that a transport plane with medical supplies was already on its way to Georgia, and that American air and naval forces would carry out the aid mission. And he said pointedly that Russia must not interfere with aid arriving in Georgia by air, land or water.

Saak seems to think so:

However, minutes after Mr. Bush’s comments, President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia characterized the import of the American aid as “definitely an American military presence” and called it a “turning point.”
“What I expected specifically from America was to secure our airport and to secure our seaports,” he went on, concluding that the American presence would do so. “The main thing now is that the Georgian Tbilisi airport will be permanently under control.”

In the comments yesterday Ensley pointed to an Air Force Times piece which said:

Air Force officials are putting plans together to fly supplies into Georgia following Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s order to end all military operations in the former Soviet state.
Pentagon officials are not releasing when or where the cargo aircraft will disembark or whether the supplies are humanitarian or military at this time due to security issues, according to Lt. Col. Elizabeth Hibner, a Defense Department spokeswoman.

I mused about that AF Times piece:

So the U.S. is doubling down? Sure sounds like Bush.

That might get interesting. U.S. supplies of anti-air assets and anti-tank assets a plane each day for a few month, the Russians main force leaving South Ossetia with the Roki-tunnel road blocked during winter snowfall ... hmmm ...

We can't yet be sure what is really happening here. Saak, who shots down 80 planes (last sentence) each day, is not what I'd consider a reliable source. I find it likely that he is -again- falling for Bush blustery here.

Then again ...

Posted by b on August 13, 2008 at 01:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (66)

The Dangers of European Semen

To the  Editors

Your paper's report on the continuing restrictions on European human sperm donations for artificial insemination of American women is deeply disturbing. [Mad Cow Rules Hit Sperm Banks' Patrons, Washington Post, Aug 13, Page A01]

Since the outbreak of the mad cow disease in Europe there is the real danger that European sperm could lead to the fatal, untreatable Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in American citizens.

These federal government restrictions are thereby wise and should under no circumstances be abolished.

Meanwhile your report fails to point out how an irresponsible U.S. Food and Drug Administration allowed huge holes in its regulation which seriously endanger the National Security of the United States of America.

Indeed Mrs. Julie Peterson, who's case you narrate, is now traveling to Denmark for artificial insemination. Our government must make sure that she will not come back unless she submits to a thorough examination.

Coming to think of it, why does the Transport Security Agency still allow male European travelers of generative age into our beloved country? These men are likely by far the greatest source of European sperm donations to America, cutting out the sperm bank middleman and making direct deposits.

How many among the flower of American womanhood are risking disaster for themselves and endanger our nation's security, every night, by accepting these contributions?

This is deeply worrying. Immediate legislation should be introduced to bar European men from coming to our shores and to prohibit them from having relations with American women abroad. Marriage to European men at risk of transmitting this plague must be verboten unless such men submit to a strict three year long quarantine on Ellis Island!


Confraternity of Certified Wankers
Backwater, Colorado

(adopted from a comment

Posted by b on August 13, 2008 at 08:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Caption Contest - Tbilisi Version

Zurab Kurtsikidze/European Pressphoto Agency via NYT

Think of a caption for the above picture and leave it in the comments. Thanks.

Posted by b on August 13, 2008 at 02:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (25)

August 12, 2008

War Nerdism

A bit of war nerdism from my side.


Map courtesy of BBC

On the evening of August 7 the Georgian President Saakashvili went on TV and announced a cease-fire. This came after some small tit for tat fire exchanges on the border between Georgia and South Ossetia. A few hours later Georgia launched a massive artillery barrage against the South Ossetian city of Tskhinvali. It used Grad multiple-launch rocket systems. Such weapons are effective against area targets, like large infantry clusters, not against pinpoint aims. To use such weapons against civilian areas leads to mass casualties and is in itself a war crime.

The attack hit people at sleep in their homes. It was followed by bombings from SU-25 ground attack airplanes in and around Tskhinvali.

The Russian peacekeepers in South Osssetia had less than a battalion of mechanized infantry between the border and Tskhinvali. This batallion was attacked by a multi battalion Georgian tank and armored infantry forces. The Russians retreated through and around Tskhinvali but held the line within the city limits.

According to Russian sources the Georgian assault killed some 1,500 to 2,000 civilians.

South Ossetia is connected with North Ossetia in Russia by only one road which leads up to the Caucasus mountain range and through the Roki tunnel. It was obvious that any Russian reinforcements would have to come through that tunnel. Georgia seems to have made no attempt to close the road and the tunnel.

Why was this attack done this way and why was the tunnel not closed down?

The only explanation I can come up with is planed ethnic cleansing.

The Georgian attack was planed and prepared for some time and followed a bigger strategic plan. Hitting the civilians in their sleep guaranteed panic and would obviously push them to look for refuge. The only place these Ossetians had to go was north to their compatriots. If the tunnel would have been closed, Georgia would have been stuck with these people after taking their land. That would have led to a messy guerrilla war. It was better, so the plan, to let them flee and therefore leave the outlet open. Indeed some 30,000 of 70,000 Ossetians fled through the tunnel.

Maybe the Georgian plan was to close the tunnel later, like after some 24 or 48 hours after the initial assault. That then was a gamble that Russia would not intervene or would need too long to reinforce. The gamble was lost.

Russia reacted quite fast and only six hours after the initial attack a combined arms force of tanks, artillery and armored personal carriers in the size of one battalion (some 600 soldiers) was on its way through the Roki tunnel. By late noon these forces had reached Tskhinvali and immediately began to push the Georgian forces back.

At the same time the Russian air force started to bomb Georgian air fields. At least four Georgian planes were destroyed on the ground. Two Russian planes were shot down by SA-5 anti air missiles which Georgia was not known to have. These weapons were possibly manned by Ukrainian mercenaries.

While the Russian troops were still on their march, Russia asked the UN security council to condemn the Georgian attack and to call for a cease-fire. The 'western' powers at the security council declined to do so.

Only after that did Russia start to get really serious. It activated paratrooper and special forces to reinforce in South Ossetia. A marine battalion was send from the Crimea and on the 11th landed in Abkhasia. Further reinforcements there came by rail. The Russian Air force launched a classic 'effect based operation' and took out military airports, radars, barracks and communication points.

A few of these attacks hit, as is inevitable, civilian places but Georgian civilian casualties seem to have been light. Russia did not attack economic or civilian installations like electricity plants, pipelines, or major traffic points. A Russian reconnaissance force only briefly moved to Senaki and the only place outside of South Ossetia and Abkhasia Russian forces now hold is a central highway crossing north of Gori.

The last Georgian attack attempt yesterday (after Saak signed Kouchner's cease-fire paper) was by six helicopters that again hit Tskhinvali. They were later destroyed by Russian air power. Yesterday night Georgian troops in Gori panicked and headed for the capital Tiblisi.

The Russian president Medvedev has stopped ground operations but the Russian forces will continue air operations against any Georgian troop concentrations until a cease-fire is signed that fits Russian demands.

The Georgian forces have lost quite a bunch of their tanks and other equipment. The Georgian air force does not exist any more. The Georgian navy lost the only two missile boats it had. Military infrastructure was hit badly. The military budget that Saak had increased from $30 million to $1 billion over a few years was wasted. The training Georgian forces received by U.S. troops and Israeli mercenaries seems to have been completely useless. Well, they learned how to bike quads.

There are now in total still only some 10,000+ Russian troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazi. Georgia has 27,000 men under arms. These did not even achieve their first objective and folded against a smaller force.

From a military standpoint the Georgian forces deserve an F. The Russian ground force deserves an A for the early holding of the ground, a B for the quick first reaction unit and a C for the reinforcement thereafter which seems to have not been very effective. The Russian air force for losing two planes only gets a D.

From a strategic political point Saak gambled badly and lost. It was obvious that he would lose this one from the beginning. Four days ago when Saak started his splendid little war I headlined Saakashvili Wants War - He Will Get It and wrote:

Saakashvili may hope for physical help from 'the west', but neither NATO nor the EU has any appetite to support his escapades. What has led him to this miscalculation?

That question is still unanswered. Saakashvili should answer it when he gets his deserved process at The Hague.

Posted by b on August 12, 2008 at 11:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (92)