Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Spring Plans

This New Year's Eve, I'm on a bus to Boston--thus my excuse for writing now and not partying.

My excuse for writing about me is that there is absolutely nothing interesting going on in the world, especially Gaza, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, China, Russia, Ukraine, the United States, Israel, or Cuba.

Since, this New Year's Eve, the world is at peace, I'm going to take a break myself from criticizing soul-crushingly foolish government errors and analyzing gut-wrenchingly hopeless security spirals, and talk a bit about me, and what I'm doing this spring.

I'm not talking about this summer or the fall after that because I don't know what I'll be doing yet. I'm still looking for a job.

But that's not all I'm doing this spring. I have indeed landed myself an internship, which I'll be starting on the 5th of January, and continuing at ~20 hours/week through May. The internship is at Conflict Dynamics, International, a non-profit firm that works with the UN and lots of liberal-democracy governments to make specific policies on the sources of contention or insecurity in wars to try and end them (or prevent them from restarting). The president, Gerard Mc Hugh, has enough of a reputation with the folks that the works with that he gets to propose his own project ideas to them. Pretty cool stuff.

When I interviewed at CDI, I was continually distracted by the many maps on the walls. Very detailed, well-used maps of the Darfur region, and settlements, ethnoreligious densities, conflict sites, refugee camps, were all over the walls. Mr. Mc Hugh didn't mind my jaw-dropping in his office, and calmly asked me how my education was going.

"Great," I said. "I'll be finishing in 4 years." I was boasting a bit. But I was trying to impress the guy. Very few people work in that company, and I needed to show that I wouldn't be wasting CPU cycles, ink, coffee, or oxygen.

"Four years with a master's? That's impressive."

"I'm impatient," I replied. I am, it's true. But he probably didn't need to know that.

He chuckled. He has an Irish accent that took me the longest time to pin down: "I know the feeling."

"Oh? You get your Master's in 4 years, too?"

"Well, three, actually, but I was going to mention something else."*

So this guy, he's got a leg up on me. Got out of MIT quite a bit quicker than I did, and then decided he was going to be an independent consultant. My impression is that he started Conflict Dynamics because the demand for his time became too high for him to handle himself. So now, he's got his fingers in Sri Lanka, India, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Columbia, probably a few other places. And me, I'm slack-jawed drooling, looking at these maps on his walls, and blubbering like an idiot as he asks me questions. I don't quite remember what I said, but it wasn't eloquent.

Sensing that I had no idea what the heck I was saying, he picks a problem for me to get my hands on: Sudan. I'll be working directly with him, right next to the guy, on a desk that was completely covered in books and papers last time I was there. I might be spending the first day cleaning it. I'll have a pretty hands-on role in (at least) electoral reform in Sudan to try to create a government with better minority representation (and better minority protection). This should do a few things:
1) Decrease the motivation for Darfurians to fight for independence.
2) Decrease the ability of the Arab-Muslim plurality to act single-handedly.
3) Try to resolve tensions between the north and south in parliament, rather than on the battlefield, which should make these Christian Africans more participatory, and allow them to act as political friends or allies of the Darfurians.

I'll probably end up working on other similar projects, too; we'll see. The coolest part is I will likely be taking a short trip to Khartoum to do some field research. Here's to hoping I don't get shot.

So that should take up most of my time that's not spent writing my thesis or going to the last few classes I have to squeak through. Then, I graduate--hopefully I'll have landed a gig by then.


*All this, of course, is paraphrasing from memory.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

On the Gaza Air Raid

Israel hit Gaza--hard--for the second straight day today in an air raid. Short of decisive, the attacks are looking ugly, pulling Israel into a mess that they may not be willing to deal with. But diplomatic pressure remains low.

300 Gazans are dead--Hamas reports 180 of their own and the rest civilians, the Israelis, of course, claim more. 700 are wounded. Hospitals are flooded. The place is a mess. Okay, now what?

If the Israelis were trying to strike a crippling blow to Hamas, and keep them from operating, then fine. It might be worth the PR problems that are being generated, and it might be worth the resentment of their Palestinian neighbors. Any raid like this has huge political costs. But Livni has openly declared that there won't be a ground invasion, and this will not be the crippling blow to Hamas. Then what is it? What's the benefit?

This campaign looks like a deterrence/punishment operation, from its nature. It's an attempt to tell Hamas, "hurt us a little, and we'll hurt you a lot." Hamas and Israel don't recognize each other as legitimate, and Hamas isn't participating in talks with Fatah, Israel, or even an Egyptian mediator. There's little talking that can be done to Hamas.

But this mayhem may not be what Israel wants. Mayhem should be an unfortunate byproduct of a bigger operation--eliminating Hamas' rocket capabilities, or decapitating the leadership. But neither of those are happening. Israel probably won't seriously hamper Hamas' ability to throw rockets into Israel, and it's certainly unlikely to break Hamas' will--martyrdom is encouraged and sought-after among Hamas' members, and civilian deaths are an infuriating motivator in any bombing campaign (think of the London Blitz).

So Israel seems to be failing to really make a blow to Hamas' capability or will with this air raid. There is a possibility that this raid is actually a signal to Fatah and its leader, Abbas, that Israel's grievances must be taken seriously by the PA if the PA is going to be able to govern itself. Fair enough. If anyone is getting the signal that Gaza needs to be put under control, it's Mr. Abbas.

What this assault won't do is strike a blow to Hamas' popularity--if anything, its base is likely to be energized. If Israel hoped to convince Hamas supporters that their party's irresponsible behavior was the cause of the attack, they've failed.

But, Israel's options remain open. They're really not taking much in the way of diplomatic fire--the UN, EU, and Arab states are calling for "restraint" and an end of hostilities--but there's very little condemnation coming out of the region, the EU, or the UN. Obviously, the US is expressing its hope for a peaceful resolution, but has openly told the Palestinians that they had it coming.

Abbas has sent an official condemnation, but that was to be expected. Arabs throughout the region are protesting in the streets, burning Israeli flags and whatnot, but their governments are not responding strongly. International politics is trumping domestic politics in the region. It's a sign that the Israelis--particularly their Foreign Minister Livni--have prepared the diplomatic battlefield. It means that they've got options in the bag, and it means that they have, over time, earned the acceptance of their regional community. But unless they can start thinking about a new approach, and focus on what their political goals in this operation might be, the diplomatic maneuvering might all be for naught.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Hamas' Neighbors Conspiring to Take it Down

Six days into the end of the ceasefire, rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel have gone up significantly--and not as a response in particular to any Israeli behavior. While the rockets are still not killing Israelis, they are making life for anyone nearby nearly unbearable.

These rocket attacks may have sealed Hamas' fate. Hope that Hamas can be groomed into a legitimate political party are falling apart, for even its neighbors. There is a lot of talk by relevant parties that seems to indicate that Hamas will soon be facing its doom. Even more significant, however, is who isn't talking.

Israel is sending strict warnings, and making it clear that they are preparing a massive offensive into Gaza. The operation would be aimed at toppling Hamas, and they might just have the support they need for it.

Egypt invited Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to Cairo for talks over the issue. Egypt is urging restraint, but this is likely a mere diplomatic and political gesture. The place of the meeting has significance--Egypt usually only meets with Israelis in an out-of-town resort, but bringing Livni into Cairo is a gesture of respect and endorsement that Egypt rarely grants. It is an off-the-record way of saying, "we are on your side now."

But there's more. Al-Quds al-Arabi, a newspaper out of London, has reported that Egypt would not object to a strike by Israel to take down Hamas. This is big news. This is about as close to a full war endorsement as one can get from Arab neighbors--a light endorsement usually comes in the form of an Embassy-level protest, even if just to save face. But the Egyptians have said out loud that they're going to keep their noses out. And they'll probably keep enforcing the blockade.

The Egyptians have probably become tired of trying to be impartial mediators with Hamas after years of being snubbed and enabling bad behavior. In October, when Egypt tried to host reconciliation meetings between Hamas and Fatah, Hamas boycotted. Egypt kept suggesting to Hamas that they continue the Israeli truce and go to Cairo for peace talks, but Hamas refused. Hamas' rocket attack escalation has come against Egyptian warnings. Egypt realizes that anything short of an endorsement for war is a form of political capital for Hamas that it can use to pay for the flight of more rockets into Israel. Egypt doesn't want to be a part of it anymore.

Before now, domestic pressure kept the otherwise-moderate Egyptian government at least partially on Hamas' side. It is likely Hamas' loss of grace--rather than serious changes in the politics between Cairo and the Muslim Brotherhood--that has pushed Egypt to Israel's side. But it's there, and that's bad news for Hamas.

Abbas has taken the opportunity to declare his support of unity and democracy by vowing not to pursue a civil war to beat Hamas. Abbas gets to play good cop as more-established powers put the pressure on Hamas for him. But there's a lot to gain for him here. His popularity is on the rise, and world opinion turning against Hamas for irresponsibility and militarism, moderates in the Palestinian Authority are likely to shy away from Hamas as well. Abbas is preparing the battlefield for snap elections and a booming victory by Fatah that he will be able to hold onto for years. If Fatah can start to consolidate its political power, then an anti-Hamas operation will become much more viable an option for other world leaders.

But just as significant are those that are not talking. Iran and Syria have said little or nothing on the matter. They have not warned Israel, nor had words with Egypt over its pro-Israeli behavior. Whether this is a result of talks with Bush, Brown, and Sarkozy, or whether it's simply due to Hamas' PR gaffes of the last few years, is unclear. But by not talking, they too are giving as much of a green light to Israel as possible. The UN will complain if the Israelis invade, as will Russia; but if the regional actors here keep behaving like they are now, they will prepare the region for peace.

If Hamas' domestic popularity tumbles, then their ability to wage a messy and bloody insurgency against Israel will be limited--people will give them less funding, fewer troops, fewer places to stay. Palestinians will betray their positions to the Israelis. The war will go well, and the militant machine that keeps Hamas in place will start to weaken. Until this happens, elections will be meaningless--Hamas has already shown that its respect for democracy and peace are long trumped by its ideology and thirst for power (see: the PA civil war). But if they can be crippled, then Fatah's elections can bring a new mandate for the region to work together to clear any Hamas resistance to the new PA order. Some control over Gaza may become possible, in time. It will require patience.

As importantly, Egypt's blessing of Israel will make it an excellent supporter of the Israeli-Fatah peace talks, especially if the Syrians choose to continue to participate after election cycles are over. Israel, should it choose to pursue the two-state option, will have regional support and mediation that should make life a lot easier.

Finally, Livni seems to be showing she's got the right stuff to be Prime Minister--and she's using the opportunity to steal the spotlight from Netanyahu. This will be critical in Israel's upcoming elections--if she can use her power as Foreign Minister to keep the region on Israel's side even during an attack on Gaza Strip, then she will at lest carry an image of a great diplomat and representative of Israel. More importantly, this fight is a big test as to whether or not her two-state system can work, or whether it should be abandoned for Netanyahu's one-state system. But with Fatah and Egypt giving tacit support to Israeli operations in Hamas, Syria and Iran's non-involvement, and the continually increasing likelihood that Hamas' days as a major player in the region are coming to a close, moderate Israelis are likely to favor the two-state system, Livni's ascendancy to PM, and continued peace talks.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

France Shows Interest in Fostering Brazil

Given the holidays, this post will be a bit short.

Sarkozy is Maintaining his reputation as a hyperdiplomatic machine by reaching out to Brazil while his ties with Syria wait and cool for the next few elections to roll through in the US, Israel, Iraq, and PA--maybe in Iran, too. Sarkozy makes France one of the first major powers to seriously acknowledge Brazil's ascendancy. Such treatment, if it became a norm, would give Brazil great power-level influence.

In this diplomatic blitz, Sarkozy has done two things. First, he has signed an arms deal to sell $12billion of goods, including 50 EC725's (Multi-Mission aircraft) and 5 conventional submarines. Why they really need the submarines is unclear, except perhaps for domestic industrial development. The deal is diplomatically significant for 2 reasons: 1) neither the US nor Russia were picked, implying that the Brazilians would like to stay neutral in this Cold War that seems to be brewing; 2) The French benefit by making themselves stand out on the Continent--these kinds of deals, should they stack up, will ratchet up the perception of France's world power--and perceptions matter.

Second, Sarkozy has made calls for Brazil to become a "world leader" and the sixth Permanent Security Council member. This kind of recognition has been seldom bestowed onto a middle-power--to Japan, briefly, without much seriousness. Not to India or Germany. But such a recognition would likely cause Eurasian powers to begin to think about looking to Brazil as the gateway to the entire South American continent. With the Monroe Doctrine whittled away by American negligence of the region, it lies open and waiting for influence or leadership. Interestingly the French are trying to hoist Brazil up to the level of France's continental neighbors, rather than looking to Brazil as an opportunity to project power throughout the region.

Brazil as a recognized regional leader will almost certainly be seen as positive to all parties. The Brazilians are friendly with the US, but skeptical (though this will change a bit with the Obama administration, almost certainly). The Brazilians are avoiding the temptations of the Russians (that the Venezuelans, Ecuadorians, and Bolivians are warming to) to join what appears to be a Russian-orchestrated anti-American proto-alliance (including such upstanding states as Iran and Belarus). The Brazilians are taking the Middle Way, much like the French are: warm to the Americans, cordial to the Russians, willing to talk to everyone. Such leadership would bring stabilization, great-power representation, and an inlet for economic investment to South America, and probably go a long way in combating the strange tendencies towards national socialism and tinpot dictators like Chavez. When South America becomes Brazil's backyard--rather than America's--it'll be a very different place.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Afghanistan Surge

The US has proposed a surge in Afghanistan--almost 30,000 troops--which would double the size of the US force there. As a percentage of the overall force, it is much higher than the force sent to Iraq. And the strategy will be greatly different from Iraq, as well. Afghanistan is not suffering from an ethnosectarian civil war. The insurgency is not urban--on the contrary, the government tends to have control of cities even in otherwise heavily-Talibanized areas. Militants thrive in the mountains and villages where the government and NATO struggle to exert their control--it's all a very different beast.



The strategy lies in a point made by JCS Chairman Mike Mullen: mainly that Taliban militants typically get routed when they engage US troops directly. A few notable exceptions remain, like the Khandahar prison raid in June. But in general, the Taliban makes trouble where the US _isn't_. (This is in contrast to Anbar province of Iraq, where trouble followed the US wherever it went)

The idea is that more troops can keep the peace in the south and possibly systematically root out Taliban presence from the north. An oil spot security strategy is doable, though it requires very deep integration (or intrusion) into the lives of Afghanis. But keeping peace down is unlikely to lead to a negotiation, like it did in Iraq (along with many other factors). The Taliban say they won't negotiate with Karzai as long as US troops are on their soil. And they're decades-old extremists that ejected the Soviets after nearly a decade. They're patient, and willing to put up with a lot of punishment.

So the only reasonable strategy here is to make Afghanistan a "safe zone" with overwhelming security, and then deal with Pakistan separately. The Afghan war cannot be won without Pakistan falling into place, of course: the minute US troops leave Afghanistan, free militants in Pakistan would pour in to reconquer the country, or at least some chunk of it that the Afghan army can't handle.

India is putting massive pressure on the Pakistanis--enough that they are letting leak that they are planning their own precision strikes in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The move is risky, and could risk war... but it is unclear whether the move on India's part would be harmful or helpful to NATO operations in Afghanistan. If there is a war, then the state falls apart and the militants thrive--unless NATO joins the war and makes it quick and decisive. Pakistan is unlikely to become an Indo-NATO joint mandate territory, but a decisive war could mean that certain parts of Pakistan's territory come under the security administration of NATO and India. China and Russia will certainly veto any resolutions to get the UN's blessing, and that will hinder such a deal from being made.

Pakistan knows it's in a lot of trouble. The US is still striking in its territory, and India is about to. The current government cannot afford to do nothing, but they also cannot afford a losing war with India. China would even be unlikely to get involved--Pakistan is an ally, but good relations with India are incredibly important. Domestically, the Pakistani government is rather doomed no matter what it does. Going after militants in-country is nearly impossible for Pakistan (due to domestic pressure, an ineffectual military, and a corrupted intelligence operation)--so ultimately, they're likely to face the wrath of India.

The Afghanistan/Pakistan situation has deteriorated to an unlivable level. General Petraeus, in charge of all of CENTCOM now, is going to try to work his magic a second time around in Afghanistan, and see if he can't save the second US-led folly in a row.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Maliki Cleans House

Over the past few days, dozens of members of Iraq's interior ministry have been arrested by an elite Iraqi counter-terrorism unit that reports directly to Prime Minister Maliki. The claim by counter-terrorism and intelligence officials is that many of these officials were part of a resurgent Ba'ath party (called Al Awda, or "the Return") that was quietly trying to coup Maliki's government. Apparently huge sums of cash for bribes were found, as well as documents.

If these allegations are true, then Maliki faces a very tough political struggle in the next few years. It means factions within Iraq are still quite dedicated to returning the Old Order, or some different one (like an Islamic fundamentalist state, etc)--they have not yet given up. Any sign of weakness on the federal government's part may open up Ba'ath or Sadrist coups, a declaration of independence by Kurdistan, or all sorts of other problems that would undermine the Iraqi state.

Maliki has few strong allies in politics--he was a bit of a compromise candidate. His list, the United Iraqi Alliance, includes Sadrites, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the al-Dawa party, Hezbollah in Iraq, the Badr organization, and a number of other relatively radical and unpredictable characters that do not have a great deal of loyalty for Mr. Maliki. He's become more popular since coming into office, and a fair bit more powerful, and he's able to keep everyone together. But everyone's grumbling as they behave.

But what he does have on his side are an impressive counterterrorism and intelligence unit (that seems to have caught some serious coup-planners early in the game) and a very professional military. The military is not completely competent yet--it will require the help of the United States to train and provide logistics until (hopefully) the US leaves. But it has done a relatively excellent job of not falling apart and fighting itself as it has attacked Sunni and Shiite militias alike. It is gaining a reputation for non-partisan and non-secular dedication to duty, and this will allow Maliki to combat most coup attempts that do not directly assassinate him.

The other possibility remains that there is no coup. Provincial elections are coming up, and the US--Maliki's biggest backer--has one foot out the door. Maliki may be legitimately concerned about his ability to continue holding onto power. The US may be legitimately concerned with what will happen as it pulls out--and any groups looking for their last chance to jump and try to shake things up pull their big stunts at the same time. But, when trying to make a democracy work, using authoritarian and underhanded police-state tactics to hold it together undermines the entire ideal being sought. We must hope that Maliki is not letting the ends justify his means.

But it's unlikely he is so foolish as to make blind attacks on political rivals. More than likely, his organization has found good evidence of some sort of bribery, corruption, etc. How much of an all-seeing eye Maliki has over his government is tough to say--probably not too keen one, given the state of the government in Iraq. But the arrests do mean one of two things: either high-level ministers are trying to bring back Hussein's regime, or Maliki is on the path of slowly becoming it in order to prevent it. The next 2 years in Iraq may be more formative than previously thought.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Gaza War to Reignite

As the truce winds down, Hamas faced two options: rev the war back up, or bide their time. Long-term, time is in their favor--Arab Muslims are outbreeding Jews by quite a bit (although they're still quite the minority). But it's very long-term. So Hamas is going with option 1.

First: rocket attacks have increased significantly. Because Hamas has no credible control over the people of Gaza, the only reputation blow it takes is for letting these rockets go is on its administrative and security abilities--a reputation it doesn't really care about anyway. But Hamas allows doubt to loom over whether it's orchestrating the attacks or not. The rockets are making living near Gaza nigh-untenable for Israelis, even though none have died. But that's the point: it's terror.

Second: Hamas has generally agreed that the cease-fire will end. They claim they will only "respond to Israeli aggression," but the cease-fire gives Israel a lot of leeway to really hammer down on the West Bank for rockets flying into Israel--if Hamas doesn't want large-scale war, it had better hope that it does have control over such rocketeers. The lack of a cease-fire will lift any veil that Hamas is actually trying to keep rockets under control--and Israel has shown that it's unlikely to cow to international pressure. Hamas probably knows it, too.

Israel probably has a plan to make a surgical strike into Hamas if they provoke it. Israel had offered to extend the truce--it was Hamas that declined, even after Israel released a few hundred Palestinian prisoners. Along with the rockets, Hamas is pretty clearly asking for it. Expect the Israelis to have something very precise in their sleeves to unleash on the Hamas leadership if they start acting up after the truce ends. Especially with Livni's declaration that Hamas has to go by force, don't expect Israel to play nice with Hamas, regardless of whether Kadima or Likud takes the polls in January.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Livni Starts Talking Tough as Elections Loom

With elections in January, Tzipi Livni, leader of Israel's Kadima party has been thinking very hard about what to say and do, balancing her principles and her obligation to lead her party to victory. It seems she has come up with just the solution.

Many Israelis worry that an unchecked Palestinian state would be a broiling terror base. There is some evidence for this--in occupied West Bank, few terror incidents have occurred in the past few years. Despite Israeli domination, those in West Bank favor the Fatah party, and are pro-reconciliation. In Gaza, where Israel withdrew earlier in the decade, Hamas reigns supreme, and launches rocket attacks at Israeli towns almost every day. Hamas is still officially at war with Israel, holding rather ineffectually to a six-month truce that will expire on the 19th of this month. Hamas has not made it clear whether the truce will be extended. Hamas politicians are also sending mixed messages on whether they want a two-state solution--one of Hamas' underlying principles is the elimination of Israel and the creation of a Palestinian state in the territory. Hamas propaganda and speeches drip with anti-Israeli rhetoric. Naturally, leaving the Palestinians to their own devices seems like an unattractive option for Israelis.

Livni may have appeared soft earlier, willing to push for a 2-state solution despite Hamas' continued anti-Israeli stance and behavior. But Livni has taken advantage of international recognition of Hamas as a terror group--while she is willing to deal with the moderate Fatah party as a representative of the PA, Hamas has no authority in the eyes of Israel. They would not be invited to the negotiating table. But further, she's taken a stance of zero tolerance for Hamas, and declared her willingness to use military means to eject them from the Gaza Strip. Such a maneuver will be difficult, given that Hamas is a decentralized party and militia, but it's an important signal coming from Livni. She's saying to the Israeli people that she will not allow her pro-negotiation stance to grant Hamas any legitimacy, and further, that she is willing to be the candidate that gets rid of them for good.

There would even be some shred of international legitimacy in such action--Fatah is currently the ruling party of the PA, but has no control over Gaza because Hamas drove them out militarily--thus, Hamas' control of Gaza can be considered illegitimate and tyrannical. Israel is probably the most effective (if not the most politically attractive) force that could restore Fatah power over Gaza.

This new, tougher stance may win back some of the Israeli moderates that jumped the Kadima ship to Likud. But we'll have to wait a few weeks for the pundits to talk and the polls to come in before we can know.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

On The MedU Solar Plan

For your reading pleasure, a paper I wrote for a grad class this semester (Politics and Conflict in the Middle East) that goes a bit outside my normal subject material. I explore the political/economic/social feasibility of the Mediterranean Union's plan to drop down a bunch of solar thermal plants in the Middle East/ North Africa (MENA) region. The idea would have 4 potential benefits:

1) Help the EU meet its carbon reduction goals for 2020 and 2050.
2) Reduce European dependence on Russian gas and oil; The EU favors North African politics to Russian.
3) Develop the economies of North African countries.
4) Kick-start solar thermal economy by introducing economy of scale, allowing it to become competitive with fossil fuels. This would allow countries with lots of desert to start producing competitive electricity, and hedge energy needs from oil (which is volatile in price, vulnerable in transport to pirates and the like) to something more stable.

I'm not planning on publishing it, so the paper is accessible here. It is still copyrighted, and all rights are reserved. Some notes are below.

There are some serious issues with the plan, including the fact that it predicts that oil prices will stay the same or go up--if there is a sudden increase in electrical supply, then the price of oil is likely to drop--simple economics. China and India will happily slurp up this cheap oil to power their own economies, and then the EU's hopes of reducing carbon emissions might be undercut. Instead, this project is simply likely to subsidize India and China's industrial development on the backs of European taxpayers. At least it's not me.

Nonetheless, other goals are likely to be met. Europeans will indeed hedge their dependence from Russia and towards North Africa. The economy of scale is likely to allow wealthy nations like the US (with lots of desert of its own) to build its own solar thermal industry, and the EU and US can then supply to areas like the Arabian Penninsula, India, and Mexico. Finally, as long as trade deals are carefully sculpted by the EU, North African countries will likely benefit from the foreign investment. If the trade deals are poorly or sloppily formed, then solar power could become a "new oil"--a cheap source of revenue for tinpot dictators or ineffectual republics that encourages inefficiency, bureaucracy, and central planning. The trade deals will be the most important part.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Implications of a Poll in Palestine

A poll was published today that described relative support for Palestinian Authority parties, Hamas and Fatah. Overall, Fatah would take 42% and Hamas 28%; in the Gaza Strip, Fatah leads 46%-32%.

The implications of this are extremely interesting for Persian Gulf and American governments. Here's why:

A few years ago, Hamas and Fatah fought a brief civil war in both the Gaza strip and West Bank. In Gaza, an aid-dependent territory, Hamas had strong local roots and a reputation for setting up schools and donation centers. They were popular, and in Gaza, they drove Fatah out. But Fatah was the elected government, and won in the West Bank, where trade and diplomacy happen through Israel and Jordan. Each section became a more homogenous, polarized region.



Israeli policy in Gaza looked for a while like it would drive Gazans to the lunatic fringe. Hamas reacted with massive propaganda efforts to Israel's attacks, blockades, etc. In a region so devoid of contact to the outside world, it seemed like such propaganda would work. But somehow, it hasn't. Gazans currently prefer Fatah--a party removed from Gaza's streets and consorting with Israel, Hamas' enemy. The implications of this are strong: Despite losing the civil war and appearing to sell out the Gaza strip, Fatah has won their loyalty. Throughout all of the Palestinian Authority, Hamas is being rejected by fairly impressive margins.

If Fatah can substantially win the upcoming January elections, then its moderate politics will reign supreme. If it can consolidate its power over Gaza, then it can begin to enforce moderate policies and suppress Hamas' anti-Israeli terror behavior. If and only if it can suppress this behavior will its 2-state policy have a chance. Israel cannot give up some control of the PA until it knows that it will not be a hotbed for terror--it cannot take it back as easily as it can simply hold on.

But the other implications are perhaps more interesting, in Israel. If the moderate Fatah party can take control of all of the Palestinian Authority, then Israeli perceptions about the PA may change. If the Israelis see hope in 2-state negotiations, if they see that such negotiations may lead to long-term peace and prosperity rather than increased terrorism and demands by radical Islamist leadership, then Israelis may be more tempted to vote Kadima and continue negotiations rather than throw their hands up and oust the government for the Likud opposition.

If Fatah and Kadima can get a new mandate and a stronger political hold over their respective territories, then the 2-state negotiations are likely to have a lot more hope in the next few years--particularly if such moderates in power allow the Israeli-Syrian peace talks to resolve. The machinations for Middle East negotiations have been shaken up significantly by the last years' actions, but they may not have fallen apart.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Iraq's Kurd Problem

When the Coalition invaded Iraq, it didn't bring much in the way of troops. This much we know. When looting and mayhem broke out after the invasion, the Coalition was quite relieved to not have to worry about one part of Iraq--the Kurdish north. And worry about it they did not. The Kurds, a long-time ally of the US against the Hussein regime (and target of much US sympathy) were happy to salute the US and say "don't worry, no anti-US activity will happen here." And happen it did not.

So the over-taxed, frazzled, and exhausted coalition said, "thank goodness," and let the Kurdish Peshmerga police its own territory. In the meantime, the US started taking shots at Sunni Arabs that were causing trouble (and some that weren't). Not only did this occupy many Sunni forces, but it chewed them up. This will become important.

The Kurds are a proud people that have faced a long history of oppression. After the First World War, they received vague promises from European powers that they would get a state. In the shuffle of great power politics, they managed to get themselves swept under the rug--Kurdistan never became a state. Instead, the region in which Kurds lived was broken up into parts of four countries: Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. Kurds found themselves ruled by Persians, Arabs, and Turks--none of which spoke their language and shared their culture. Attempts to gain full autonomy in one country met backlash from all four--Kurdish land is fertile and full of oil, and all four countries that contained Kurdistan knew that successful Kurdish independence from one state would lead to instability and increased nationalism at best, and momentum for a war of independence at worst. Hussein launched a war of genocidal terror against his Kurds after the Persian Gulf war, killing hundreds of thousands and prompting the US-led Operation Provide Comfort, which kept Iraqi troops from setting foot in Kurdsitan for years.


Figure 1: Kurds in the Middle East


Provide Comfort was a defining moment in the history of Iraq's Kurds. Because Iraqi forces could not set foot in Kurdish areas, the Kurds had to look after themselves. Iraqi Kurdistan had actually gained official autonomy in 1970, but its parliament was under Hussein's control until the aftermath of Provide Comfort, when Iraqi forces left the area. Official autonomy had put most of the mechanisms in place necessary for real autonomy--without Iraqi troops (and with an economic blockade by Hussein), Iraqi Kurdistan had achieved de facto autonomy. The Peshmerga, a paramilitary force of the Kurdish region, policed the region. Two opposing factions ruled. It acted much like it's own country--similar to a Taiwan or South Ossetia situation. The Kurdish autonomous region is defined in figure 2 below; some Kurds lived outside the region, and a few Arabs lived within it.

Figure 2: Kurd Populations and Autonomous Region


The green areas represent Kurdish populations, but those blobs were certainly not static. In addition to genocide by murder, Hussein made attempts to consolidate Ba'ath control of Kirkuk and Mosul, the 5th and 2nd largest cities in Iraq (and quite wealthy) by a process of "Arabization:" moving Arabs into and around the cities, something reflecting "Hanization" by the Chinese in Tibet and Xinjiang. This process will also end up being quite important.

In the 12 years between Provide Comfort and the US-led invasion, the Kurdish population became quite used to its autonomy. The Peshmerga, a paramilitary force on the autonomous region's budget, kept the peace. The new generation of Kurds mostly doesn't speak Arabic, and largely does not have much interest in the Iraqi state as a whole--they see themselves as citizens of Kurdistan.

Enter again the Americans. During the Coalition's Invasion of Iraq, troops found themselves quickly overwhelmed with looting, murders, and then an insurgency. US troops, in charge of the northern zone of Iraq, asked the Kurds to keep the peace. And keep the peace they did--Kurdish troops marched south into areas they considered "Arabized" Kurdish territory, and a bit more. The US did show up in Kurdistan eventually, but not until the violence in Baghdad and Anbar started to fall. In the four years' meantime, the Kurds ruled. Their holdings have extended to those of the figure below.



Iraqi Arabs are not happy with this arrangement. Kurds have extended their control to northeastern Mosul and Kirkuk, Iraq's 2nd- and 5th-largest cities. Mosul is a wealthy trading city and Kirkuk a wealthy oil city--and both have lots of Arabs (interestingly, Mosul also has lots of Turkomen). While the Kurds managed to keep much of their territory relatively peaceful, their fighting with Arabs and Turkomen has turned Kirkuk and Mosul into 2 of Iraq's biggest violence hotspots. Mosul, in the confusion of the fray, has become Al Qaeda's last hideout in Iraq. It's a serious security problem.

Maliki sent the Iraqi Army to take back some of the Kurds' southeastern holdings that were pretty unquestionably Arab territory. There has been no civil war yet, but this is probably due only to the persistence of the US--the Kurds' best friends--in levying pressure to negotiate. But the Kurds are frustrated. Cities like Kirkuk were supposed to have referenda on whether they wanted to be a part of the Kurdish Autonomous zone or not--and the vote is now well over a year delayed, and shows no signs of happening. The US is trying to push for a negotiated settlement between the two sides. But Mosul and Kirkuk are likely to become embroiled in fighting no matter which way they go--even if their representatives can reach a deal, Arabs and Kurds in each city believe deep down that the city is theirs and that the other side has taken unjustly what they've taken. It's a mess.

The US doesn't have too long to stay in Iraq, and needs the negotiations to happen on a reasonable timescale--Maliki wants the same, because he knows that the US will back the Baghdad government if the Peshmerga picks a fight with them. The Peshmerga know it, too--but they also know that the US is willing to look out for their interests to some extent if they don't pick a fight with Baghdad--the US and the Kurds are still close friends with a relatively long history. But this explanation predicts that the Kurds would be happy to negotiate, and so far they haven't been thrilled. As the Iraqi Army grows, they will lose bargaining power--the only two rational approachs I can think of are A) negotiating now, while Kurd power is strongest with respect to the Iraqi Army and the Coalition, or B) wait until the Coalition leaves, at which point one would presumably have a boost in advantage. The latter is a dangerous game of brinksmanship that the Kurds must avoid. The former will probably not happen until an oil deal is passed in parliament--and that deal is getting close to 2 years delayed.

The resolution of this Arab-Kurd dispute when the US leaves will likely be the final step in securing Iraq's stability into the future. But failing to do it could undermine the progress that Coalition and Iraqi governments have made. Careful and persistent work awaits US diplomats in the next 2 years.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Congress Hangs On in India

Many analysts believed the Mumbai attacks would be devastating for the Indian Congress Party--the pro-business and pro-US ruling party in New Dehli. While Pakistani cells were almost certainly responsible, a number of intelligence failings on the part of Indian counterterrorists became apparent. The US had warned India of a terror attack on Mumbai through its ports.

Such failings looked like they would vindicate BJP (the opposition leader) criticisms for years over weak terror and Pakistan policies. But Congress is holding on with surprising vigor. In recent state elections, Congress won 3 of 5--most interestingly, Dehli, which pundits thought seemed certain to go to BJP due to its close cultural ties with Mumbai. But while the bombings were clearly a black mark on Congress, the relative responses of Congress and BJP may have made the difference.

Congress has stepped up pressure on Pakistan, together with the United States. India has demanded--and to some extent, received--Pakistani help during the Mumbai investigations. Quickly, the Pakistanis responded with a number of arrests, including the alleged "mastermind" of the attacks. In addition, the government has revealed the identities of the Mumbai gunmen, giving the Pakistanis few political options besides a new wave of arrests to get to people near these published gunmen that might have been involved in conspiracy. Indians may be relatively satisfied with this cautious but firm response. It appears dynamic and well-thought-out.

BJP, on the other hand, has faced accusations of "opportunism." The Mumbai attacks were much like an Indian 9/11, and appearing to try to gain politically by the event will hurt any party. BJP may have been too aggressive. In addition, Indians may not want to encourage another bloody war with Pakistan (that might, if poorly designed, lead to even more terrorism by fracturing the Pakistani state) by electing the currently fevrishly militant BJP.

Elections in May are coming up for Congress, and they can't afford to lose. Allegations of buying votes on the US nuclear deal remain, and the Congress response to these attacks may shape their election hopes in May. They have a few months to make it work, which may be the basis of their slow, cautious approach. If Pakistan does end up declaring full-scale war on the militants, then Congress can take credit for applying enough pressure to get the job done without having so sacrifice Indian troops--such an outcome would be the best Congress can hope for.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

US Sees Opportunity in Mumbai

After the tragic Mumbai terror attacks, Sec. State Rice traveled to India and Pakistan to urge restraint and cooperation between the two countries--the last thing the US wants right now is a war that turns Pakistan into a failed or excessively weak state.

But Rice has also spent an incredible amount of time and effort criticizing Pakistan and urging them to "act quickly." Before the Mumbai attacks, Pakistani terror was largely a bilateral issue--between NATO and Pakistan. NATO was able to lobby Pakistan to act, but Pakistan's domestic politics made it near impossible. But now that the Mumbai attacks have enraged India, and the US can use them as a tool of threat: "Look, we have restraint, but those Indians, who knows what they'll do?"

Thus, the Pakistanis lose the highground in any negotiation--the US can control its behavior, but can play the Indians like a wild card; the Pakistanis must now crack down on terror (and take a beating for it) to avoid another war with India, which would cost them far, far more.

The sheer human tragedy of the Mumbai bombings accents this loss of moral highround--Pakistan can no longer run to the UN or other global organizations and complain that they are being bullied by the US--the US and India are trying to shore up the growing world opinion that the Mumbai attacks were due in part on Pakistani negligence. Those international law precedents on control and sovereignty start to take effect here.

Some literature (which I can't find online, of course) has been calling for parts of Pakistan to become international mandate zones--places like Pakistani Kashmir and the Northwestern Frontier Regions, where Pakistan clearly does not have administrative control. If the proper international pressure can be levied upon Pakistan, they may just have to cave and accept that certain parts of their territory be internationally controlled--incurring the world's ire by sending troops to stop them would mean collapse.

If that threat is legitimately on the table, then the (albeit weak) Pakistani leadership may have no choice but to make the hard decision and start seriously fighting, and maybe invite NATO airstrikes and support to get the job done. If the latter declaration was made, it would be a huge victory for Rice's diplomatic team.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Followup: Canadian Parliament Suspended

It was even easier than I thought. Despite being Liberal-recommended, Governor General Jean agreed to suspend Canadian parliament today. The no-confidence vote, which Harper was expected to lose, will not happen--at least in the near future.

When parliament reconvenes in late January, both sides will have had a fair amount of time to make their point to voters. If Harper is able to get Canadian citizens on his side, then the opposition coalition will dare not bring the no-confidence vote--for then, Harper could call snap elections and potentially win a majority of seats. But if the Canadian people have in fact grown tired of the Conservatives only 2 months after giving them a near-majority power, then the no-confidence vote may go ahead, forcing Harper to bow out into opposition status.

But given how quickly the opposition coalition tried to push through the no-confidence vote, they are unlikely to benefit from 2 more months of jockeying and thinking among the Canadian populous. It will be hard to keep people excited for a change in government when nothing is getting done. And with the Governor General on his side, Harper can claim that the State will benefit from a continued Conservative government with more legitimacy.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Canadian Political Crisis

After a second-straight gain in elections, the Conservative Party of Canada 143 of 308 seats--nearly a majority, and things looked good for Stephen Harper and his party.

Being good Conservatives, they decided that the fiscal crisis would probably be hurt by a too-hasty hemorrhaging of taxpayer loonies all over the economy, so they took a wait-and-see approach.

But the Liberals, New Democrats, and Bloc Quebequois aren't happy about this--so unhappy, in fact, that they've signed a deal to topple Harper's Conservatives and drop a 30 billion dollar package of their own. To actually oust the government, they would need to win a vote of no-confidence, which would need 155 votes (out of 308). But the Conservatives' 143 seats are unlikely to vote for the motion, meaning that the Conservatives would only have to convince 12 out of the remaining 165 representatives in house not to shake up the government. I don't know the propensity of Canadian reps to toe the party line, but this would be a doozie for the opposition almost anywhere.

But Harper's not taking any chances. Instead of letting the vote of no confidence go forward, he's asked the Governor General to suspend parliament until late January--when the Conservatives will present their budget for a vote. The move, if he can pull it off, would be quite brilliant. The whole justification of the opposition coalition's hostile takeover is a desire to put through a quick stimulus package--but if the Conservative budget in January is politically sound (and it likely will be, if they have the next 8 weeks to think about it), there will be little that an opposition coalition could accomplish beyond it. The original purpose of the coalition would be lost, as long as the budget looks good.

As angry as they'd be about having parliament suspended during the economic crisis, they'd have to find a new political reason to topple the Conservatives--they might hold a vote of no confidence on the grounds of irresponsibility; on the grounds that Harper wanted to suspend Parliament during tough times--but the opposition coalition can't blame Harper without more deeply (though unintendedly) blaming Governor General Jean, who was recommended by the last Liberal government and appointed at the pleasure of the Queen, and is not part of any political party. The members of House would be spitting on some pretty big wigs, and almost certainly are unwilling to do that.

So, if Harper can pull off the suspension, he'll take the wind out of the opposition's sails, and likely hold onto the government for the forseeable future. If not, he may have to face a no-confidence vote or test the wind to see if he'd fare well in a snap election, marking one of the shortest election periods in Canadian history. If he does call snap elections, he'll have to blame the opposition parties for putting politics before country, which he's already trying to do. If he wins a majority out of the snap elections (unlikely), then his government is in good shape for a fair many years.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Gen. Petraeus to Put US Forces in Back Seat

Before Mr. Obama takes office on the 21st of January, Iraq is going to go through a fair bit of wrapping up. As the DoD map below shows, all but Baghdad (18 of 19 provinces) will have been transitioned to full Iraqi control soon: according to the DoD September Report to Congress, the ceremonies will all happen in early and mid-Jaunary. Baghdad's ceremony will be in May--though it should be noted that its ceremony has been continually pushed back from October 2008.



With Iraqi Security Forces at the front in all of these provinces, Petraeus is likely trying to train them by fire--US forces will be in the back (notably, taking far fewer casualties than when in the front) provoding logistical support and giving advice. This "school for hard-knocks" is going to get Iraqi forces pretty chewed up over the next few months, but it will mean high-speed learning. So far, only a small percentage of Iraqi military forces are capable of full independent operations--logistics, supply, planning, and execution. Most need planning help from the US. Many need US logistics or even military backup. They must wean this dependence by 2011, or they will falter when the US withdraws.

Another reason for the speedy handover is the terms of the Status of Forces Agreement (SoFA). While US forces don't leave until 2011, they have to get off the streets of Iraqi cities and villages by the end of 2009--during 2010 and 2011, US forces can only act at the behest of the Iraqi government. They will continue to train, but will only get militarily involved when the Iraqis need the cavalry to come in.

The handover involves more than military control. It also signals full administrative control on the part of the Iraqis, with the State Department playing a purely supportive role. With Gates remaining head of the DoD and Petraeus keeping his post as head of CENTCOM, Bush appointees will be at the forefront of Iraq's endgame through 2011 (barring anything strange). Obama and Clinton will have surprisingly little influence over the Iraq situation, as policies being made now (namely the SoFA and handover timetables) have mostly sealed any questions on the remaining US role. This will free up the "team of rivals" to deal with more pressing crises--Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India are the main points of worry.

Monday, December 1, 2008

NATO Expansion Engines Cool

Despite Mr. Bush's hopes for continued efforts to include Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, such an expansion is quite unlikely. It seems the Russian maneuver in Georgia has done exactly what was intended.

The Ukrainian people are now strongly against joining NATO in polls--it seems as if Russia made it clear that messing with them was a bad idea. Even Yushchenko has decided that his NATO hopes are over, and he should warm up to the Russians.

The Europeans are also rather unenthusiastic about rushing the Ukrainians and Georgians into NATO--the French and Germans in particular are still against the notion, and the Brits have lost any excitement they may have had. It looks like the Membership Action Plans are not going to happen in the near future--meaning the Russians are not going to be relegated to nothingness in the next few decades.

And that means that the Russians have won their immediate objective. They're going to be taken seriously. The EU members of NATO are in favor of reopening security ties with Russia--and Medvedev is offering about as peaceful an olive branch as Russia can offer to Obama.

It's possible the Russians will muscle their way back into the fold. Whether that's good for NATO or not is yet to be determined.

Friday, November 28, 2008

On the Mumbai Attacks

You've read the news: Muslim extremist militants have attacked Mumbai, India with small arms. Well over 100 dead, and multiple days of carnage in some of India's wealthiest hotels.

The attack was clearly directed at Americans, Israelis, and Britons--gunmen took tourists (in multiple locations, including the Taj Mahal Hotel) hostage and started demanding the turnover of civilians with US and UK passports, and started executing them. They also attacked a Jewish house. But these terrorists were ruthless, and carelessly gunned down anyone that didn't strictly follow rules, or appeared to be a threat. They were undisciplined, highly outnumbered, and hope to instill fear into the group to behave. What happened was well over 100 deaths, mostly Indian.

The attack was clearly designed to terrify Americans and Britons. But the attack has brought little in the United States or Britain but sympathy for Indians. The terrorists largely failed to hit the large number of US and UK citizens that they were hoping, and created such lasting carnage in India that the Indians took the vast majority of the impact. Now--nutjob fundamentalist Islamists have no problems with terrifying Indians and assorted Hindus.

But Pakistani fundamentalists have now incurred the wrath of their neighbors. India and Pakistan have gone to war 3 times since 1947, and almost went to war in 2001 over a bombing then. A nasty 2006 train bombing in Mumbai was blamed on Pakistani militants, and this attack already has been blamed on them as well.

The Indians are outraged--they are calling this "India's 9/11"--but their response is not obviously clear. They are angry at the US and UK--I remember seeing a live report interrupted by a hysterical man running by and asking why Indians had to die, why it wasn't the US getting bombed. But the Indians also hate the Pakistanis, and are very used to placing blame on them.

Pakistan's Intelligence was very involved in Indian terror networks before 9/11, but those relations have strained (in part due to US pressure and in part due to Pakistan's own Islamist problems). But if this attack was coordinate in a Pakistan "safe haven," then the Indians may start sharing the same attitude the US has about Pakistan's ability to police its own territory. There is some International Law precedent that a government unable to administer and police its own territory has forfeited its sovereignty. But this will require many months of UN deliberations to happen, if it happens at all.

On the other hand, the US and India could just go ahead and drive in. But even if they were ready to take the political beating for such an attack, they would have to make it quick and decisive--a prolonged war with Pakistan would only strengthen the Islamists. But it's ultimately unlikely to happen.

Pakistan's Intelligence chief is visiting Mumbai, likely to try and keep relations from going sour. But the Indian government, which barely has a stable majority, can't afford to do nothing. If they don't blame Pakistan, then they take the blame themselves. They're unlikely to blame the US and UK for bringing the heat into India--they're so used to anti-Indian attacks that the specific target of these terrorists is mostly immaterial. The Indians will need a target to blame, and decisive action to take, probably targeting Pakistan in some way. How they'll manage their domestic politics and neighborly relations is a tough question that New Dehli will have to be quite clever to figure out.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Iraq: One Fewer Worry for President Obama

The Status of Forces Agreement (SoFA) has passed Iraqi parliament, with 75% of parliament approving. This sounds like a pretty darn big number, but it's about as low a number as the US can politically get away with--a substantial majority against the bill would give a lot of legitimacy to continued anti-American resistance, continued factionalization, etc.

Iraq's fate is sealed; Petraeus and Gates (locked in for the next while at least) should be able to handle the situation quite well. And with this agreement (which must be finalized by the 3-person Iraqi Presidential Council--it will), Obama has no Iraq policy left to make. He need only say, "stick to the plan, Mr. Gates," and the troops will come home in a timeline he can appreciate. It should be a weight off the new president's shoulders.

But with Russian challenges, Somali pirates, Afghanistan falling apart, and now a major, in-progress anti-US/UK terror attack in India, Mr. Obama needs all the relief he can get.

And now, Turkey.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

NATO May Be Out of Afghanistan Sooner than Thought

Afghan President Karzai is starting to become war-weary--as is his populace. His re-election is coming up, and he's starting to become emboldened about his sovereignty thanks in large part due to the negotiations between the US and Iraq in Baghdad. Karzai has asked for a timeline for foreign troop withdrawal--but interestingly, he asked the UN Security Council Delegation, not NATO.

Karzai's frustration is understandable. NATO Counter-Insurgency (COIN) operations are often heavy-handed and humiliating for Afghan citizens, most of whom are much more pro-government than many of the folks in Iraq. Despite this (or perhaps because of it), much of southern Afghanistan remains in control of the Taliban. As the Army COIN manual states, the more force that is used in COIN operations, the less effective the force is.

Because the US has very limited operational ability in Pakistan, and Pakistan has been impressively inept at squeezing the Taliban itself, much of NATO (which has no operational capability in Pakistan at all) concentrates its efforts on rooting the Taliban from Afghan villages. The consequences of this, at minimum, are war-weariness. Worse consequences include insurgency formation.

Such a declaration by Karzai is likely quite scary to a US that believes its reputation can't afford a recapturing of Afghanistan by the Taliban. And surely, Karzai doesn't want to timeline his own government into overthrow and his own family into the gallows. It's not what he's looking for--Karzai is a smart, shrewd politician, and his idea has some tricky potential.

So, why a timeline? Looking like a Western colonial tributary is a terrible way to gain legitimacy for your state among the average Mohammed. Remember, Afghanistan is a state of Muslims, has almost no economy to speak of, and very little ability to project power throughout its mountainous terrain. It needs a sovereign legitimacy in the eyes of its people to counter the Taliban--luckily, the Taliban's previous brutal regime alienated such a large proportion of the population that they will not have unanimous support.

But a Taliban opposition will always exist. And yes, they are rather extremist Muslims, but they are not themselves al-Qaeda. They allied with al-Qaeda to keep control. Karzai has a plan to drive a wedge between them. Karzai will make a political deal with members of the Taliban that are willing to openly reject al-Qaeda and accept the Afghani Constitution. For many Taliban, these aren't huge concessions to give in exchange for some military relief--it will be easier to sleep at night knowing that American missiles are less likely to whack them in the middle of the night.

Getting the Taliban to buy into the government has the potential to be akin to the Sunni Awakening. The Sunnis that the US was dealing with in Anbar province were allied with al-Qaeda, extremist in nature, and quite happy to kill civilians. To think that the Taliban cannot be dealt with for these reasons is overly simplistic and idealistic. Smart negotiations can not only keep many Afghani Taliban from making life worse, but they may (given enough incentive) help to hunt down al-Qaeda and cut off cross-border support from Pakistan. Afghanistan is the kind of place where these local militias are a natural steady state, and the government is unlikely to do well by trying to apply thumbscrews to disarm them. Certainly, it is better to ally with them; if the economy can grow, regional divisions will fade in the long-term.

Can a state live with a large extremist Islamic minority? Certainly--even if it's not easy. Saudi Arabia has is Wahabbis, Egypt has its Muslim Brotherhood, Lebanon has all sorts of extreme minorities, as does Iraq, and Jordan has lots of Palestinian refugees to deal with--there is some variation in their success, certainly, but they can hold it together with this model if they negotiate well. It's hard to beat extremism out of a population with a hammer.

On the other hand, the war in Afghanistan is not being won, and the Afghanis are taking quite the brunt for it--as are NATO soldiers and taxpayer dollars. But!

NATO should not encourage reconciliation and peace talks only after it withdraws. NATO troops should act as peace enforcers, trainers, and facilitators to the deal. The US should help forge the Afghani government demands and goals, including Afghani army oversight of any local militia operations.

Like in Iraq, the first thing that needs to happen is a creation of serious security--which at this point probably cannot be done without a peace and reconciliation agreement with parts of the Taliban. Like the Sunni Awakening in Iraq, this will have a payoff of not only reducing violence from these groups, but turning guns against the serious dead-enders.

Once security has been established, long-term political deals need to be made. This is a highly complex process that should be able to bring in many Taliban in the south of Afghanistan--for the right price. Afghanistan will have to be tough and keep power-sharing from overwhelming the Afghani democracy, but minority protections and limited autonomy are common provisions in civil war termination.

If the political deal holds, then economic development and administrative distribution will be the priority of Kabul--but these will be much easier if it's not fighting a war. With a growing economy, working healthcare and garbage collection, more electricity, better roads, and (importantly) fewer doors getting bashed in by foreign infidels, regime security is likely to get a lot better in the long-term.

NATO should be open-minded enough to Karzai's idea to try and support initial talks with the Taliban--testing the water to see what their demands are can't hurt. The US and Afghanistan alike have been taking a beating over the past 7 years, and frankly, things are getting worse. Luckily, Gen. Petraeus is now head of CENTCOM, and his experiences in Iraq should provide him with great wisdom into how to best design the proper carrots and sticks for Afghanistan's Anbar-like southern rural extremists. Hopefully the US will look for a way to deal with Afghanistan that is a bit more effective than continuing to beat its head against a brick wall.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Winning The Second Cold War Before It Starts

Oh, the Russians. Becoming more and more terrifying, no? Moscow's domestic and international politics alike are worrying the West, and for good reason.

The Duma (Russian parliament) has backed a 6-year presidential term, almost certainly leading to a 12-year Medvedev presidency--and thus an even greater extension of Putin's power. Apparently, the bill means that Putin will be eligible to run for President again in 2012 or 2018, whenever Medvedev decides he's done... giving Putin yet another 6-12 years afterwards. He'll have ruled longer than any post-revolution leader of Russia.

And Russia's leadership is not ruling with a bunnies-and-kitties fist. Russia's habit of intimidating dissenting reporters (usually by sending the mob) has been ratcheted up by Moscow's declaration that it would close the murder trial of Politkovskaya to the public. The Kremlin is signaling that it would rather appear opaque and shadowy than let whatever terrible truth is afoot here get out. Justice for future murders is unlikely.

Internationally, he presidents of Poland and Georgia had to duck from fire at a South Ossetian checkpoint over the weekend, and the Russians are waving it off as a setup by the Poles. How the Poles might have put agents into South Ossetia to fire on their own president is unclear.

Russia's launching itself towards new superpowerdom, and quickly. It is sending a naval fleet to South America to deal with Brazil, Venezuela, and Cuba--almost certainly to boast that it can steamroll the Monroe doctrine at its pleasure, and to put pro-Russian sentiment into the back yard of the US. It's threatening to set up offensive ballistic missiles against its former satellite countries that won't cow to its will. It's trying to force Finnish paper industries to move to Russia with crippling timber tariffs. The invasion of Georgia was a clear signal to NATO to back off. Russia has threatened to cut off gas supplies to France and Germany if NATO accepts the Ukraine.

With Putin and Medvedev likely in power for approximately forever (in government terms, looking three or four administrations away is such--Could Gerald Ford plan for Bill Clinton's tenure?), they're likely to only turn the heat up as Russia's GNP and military continue to grow. Western governments likely want to (and if they don't, should want to) launch preventative measures to keep Russia from becoming big enough to actually do damage to Western interests. I have some simple (but not easy) suggestions on how to relegate Russia to being a tinpot regional power, able to terrorize only the people of the Central Asian Stans (which we Westerners don't care much about anyway):

1) Show NATO Has Guts.NATO was formed for one reason: to contain Russia. In the 1990s, Russia's internal collapse meant NATO found itself bored and poking around in the civil wars of small Balkan and African countries. In 2001, it came to bat for its largest benefactor, the US. NATO has grown aggressively throughout the 1990's and 2000's. It has shown strength, unity, and cooperation. It should make sure not to splinter, and see what it can to do supports members in most dire need of help: the Czech Republic, Poland, Turkey.

2) Subsume Georgia and the Ukraine.The Russians clearly meant to terrify NATO by smashing Georgia up so thoroughly--they hoped to make Georgia such a liability that NATO would reject it as an ally. But if NATO is going to contain Russia, it should invest in taking the blow now to keep a knife close to Russia's underbelly. But the Ukraine is even more important. The Ukraine is the Russian heartland, and provides Russia with massive supplies of grain. In addition, Sevastopol is Russia's only deep warm water port, which it rents from the Ukraine. Losing its lease would mean a deep retraction of the Russian navy, particularly in the winter. Seasonal power projection is barely better than no power projection, and Russia would lose great influence in the Eastern Mediterranean and elsewhere. If the Ukraine and Georgia enter NATO, Russia's last two European allies will be the paltry Serbia and Belarus--staunch, but ineffectual. Russia will be pushed out of Europe forever. If it goes on to develop Central Asia to give itself a sphere of influence, than all the better.

3) Come to bat for Germany and France. If Ukraine and Georgia are admitted to NATO, then Germany and France are likely to lose access to Russian oil and gas. But luckily, oil and gas are necessarily fungible, unless Russia chooses to hoard that gas and lose all the revenue, rather than sell it... but this is unlikely. Let's assume they sell it to the Chinese, instead. That means the Chinese demand less Middle Eastern hydrocarbon, and the price goes down. The Americans and British can buy up these cheaper Middle Eastern resources, and then re-sell them to the French. Now, will it all be as cheap as normal? Clearly not. But everyone can take some hit in prices to support French and German stands against Russian resource blackmail, and it will have to be temporary if the Russians don't want to lose lots of money over their own inefficiency (currently, they make the most possible money by selling to Europe). It will be temporarily costly to test Russian resolve, but the long-term savings in not having to deal with Russian weight-throwing are immense.

4) Accelerate the Mediterranean Solar Plan. Sarkozy's MedU plan to stick a bunch of thermal solar plants in North Africa to replace oil and gas dependency for power-generation has a few excellent effects for Europe in the long-term. The first is a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, which will help them sleep at night. The second will be a less volatile source of electricity, which will keep shocks from busting up the economy. The third benefit will be relief from dependence on Russian gas and oil. Imports are fine, unless you're importing from someone who's willing to jump from a cliff just to take you down with him. Putin may be ready to do that. In the long-term, the more the Europeans reduce their dependence on Russian gas and oil, the more irrelevant the Russians will become. France's high-speed construction of nuclear power plants is a great example of these efforts--even if nuclear power is currently more expensive than the gas and oil. The French and German power grids are integrated, and if the Russians do turn the gas off, a combination of solar in North Africa, wind in Germany, and nuclear in France should soon be able to sop up enough of the slack to keep the economy from faltering as the Americans and Brits scramble to deliver the necessary hydrocarbons.

If the Russians lose Ukraine and Georgia, and also (in the long-term) lose their hydrocarbon monopoly in Europe, they will become irrelevant very quickly, unless they actually want to initiate a full-scale war with NATO. But the Russians are smarter than they used to be, and weren't foolish enough to launch such a war in the 20th century, when they owned half of Europe. If NATO claims the Ukraine and Georgia, its conquering of the Russian empire will be complete, and in the long-term, Russia will be relegated to its own icy home.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

China's Recession Crisis

While Western powers are worrying about a six-month recession and the belt-tightening it entails, the Chinese are worrying about much greater consequences. Rather than simple approval ratings declines, the Chinese are facing a crisis of legitimacy that may undermine the very fabric of the Communist Party's authority.

For decades, the Communists have been terrified of large-scale unrest and demonstration. They frequently underplay the number of local demonstrations in the country and tightly control information to prevent potential dissenters from hearing that there is momentum. When times are good, there are hundreds of large protests in China per year, according to the CIA. Even if it's significantly fewer than hundreds (only dozens), it's still more than Beijing admits, and still more than they're comfortable with.

The Chinese diaspora tends to be highly nationalistic and defensive of their nation of heritage, and many wealthy Chinese are happy to protest against the Japanese when the state tells them to. But in this very group-oriented country, the state has not managed to make itself the only source of authority, as much as it has tried to do so.

With a global economic slowdown, China is going to get hit hard. Its wealthy customers--the US, Canada, the EU, Japan, Australia, etc--are going to trim their budgets down to essentials, and many Chinese products are going to be the first to go. Exports are already falling, and factories in China are already closing their doors. Luckily, oil is cheap--otherwise, imports from China would be so expensive that production would re-localize, and that's a trend the Chinese can't afford.

The world may be impressed with China's 8% sustained growth, but Chinese economists see it as a bare minimum to sustain. Beijing's biggest worry is unemployment, and extremely rapid growth is necessary to prevent it from shooting up--as technology, supply chain efficiency, and competition from Latin America and Southeast Asia make Chinese labor obsolete, the Chinese government tries to expand its economy laterally (that is, with simply more factories) to incorporate laborers. It has kept the official rate down to 4%, but this only includes registered workers--hundreds of millions of rural farmers and migrant laborers are underemployed and unemployed, and the Chinese cannot currently afford an extensive welfare program to keep these people sated in bad times.

Worse, the Chinese have continued to rely on expanding export production to keep the economy going--it's quick-and-dirty, but inefficient, and discourages sustainable national consumption-based economies, skilled labor, etc. It also leaves the economy very vulnerable to fluctuations in spending by Westerners and oil prices--both of which have been extremely vulnerable in the past few months. Beijing has been sweating.

But news for them is getting worse. Nation-wide taxi cab driver protests have taken hold, and while they are unlikely to become a nationwide uprising, it's a sign that the Chinese are starting to lose control over the population. The official unemployment rate has gone above 4.5%, and the minimum wage has not increased in years--fine during good times, but bad when costs of living stop decreasing, as they're doing. There are a whole lot of people that might latch onto a movement by taxi cab drivers, or day laborers, or factory workers, or textile makers, or all sorts of people, if they manage to get organized. Unemployed and underpaid labor is a serious threat to the Chinese government as a potential source of mass dissent.

The Chinese Communist Party retains its legitimacy through promising economic growth and a better tomorrow for China. "Don't change horses when you're winning the race" has been a fine line to repeat since 1979, but what happens if China's unemployment goes up and its GDP growth slows too much? Dissent that starts by calling for reform may start calling for new leadership if the current leadership cannot deliver. The earthquake-Olympic honeymoon of the summer faded faster than Beijing would like, and they need to keep reform and growth chugging along to hold on.

China's economy has been zooming along a teetering precipice for years, and Chinese economists have had to manipulate with pure genius to keep its export-led plan from crashing. But if the world economic slowdown deepens, there will be nothing even they can do. To achieve sustainable, hands-off growth and economic stability, the answer is to follow the West--liberalized, privatized economies that increase efficiency with domestic consumption and comparative advantage will keep the GDP growing on its very own. But China can't easily switch into such an economic stance. Decades of kicking the economy into an export-on-steroids stance have created massive inequalities between the coast and the west, creating huge demographic pressures that would turn into chaos if Beijing took the lid off. The transition to a liberal domestic consumption economy would mean a temporary closing of many factories that are literally exporting at a loss and subsidized by the government, the temporary unemployment of those workers, and a decrease in the minimum wage to try to encourage investors to sop up the newly unemployed. It would be a mess, but Chinese state controls have set up the economy for a transitional disaster unless the transition occurs during an economic boom.

But these are not good economic times, and massive economic liberalization would likely lead to enough temporary chaos to lead to an unseating of the CPP's monopoly--if not a revolution. China faces a serious crisis if its economy gets a lot worse, and there is little Beijing can do to satiate its population. Its economic controllers have set it up for failure in this kind of market.

What this means for the US--Chinese GDP growth is not going to be sustained. The Chinese economy will not overtake the US economy in the next 20 or 30 years, as many pro-protectionist policymakers in the US suggest. Either the Chinese will successfully bounce out of this crisis and continue down the road of WTO integration (whence their GDP growth will slow into a more sustainable, free, labor-inclusive, and income-equalized market with lots of domestic consumption), or the Chinese economic controllers will falter, leading to a short chaos followed by a new regime (with a honeymoon and new mandate to make tough changes).

The former is very good for the US--Chinese domestic consumption and a lowering of import tariffs will mean that, as the Chinese grow, they will be able to afford American exports. A China of free trade and liberal policy will be one that US labor interests should encourage to grow, such that it becomes a market of high-quality US goods.

The latter is bad for everyone (besides, perhaps, the Tibetans). A collapse of the 4th-largest economy in the world will lead to a deep global depression, particularly in East Asia. The US can almost afford to live without Chinese imports (though many US manufacturers, construction firms, retailers, and financial institutions will dry up), but much of the rest of the world is likely to go down with China.

Therefore, the likely consequences of all this is that the EU and US may have to work to bail the Chinese out--they will try to crank up imports of Chinese goods with "stimulus" packages and consumer support, but hopefully in return for concessions by China to reform in the medium-term.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sri Lanka Breaking Stalemate With Tigers

Current civil war theory suggests that civil wars are tough to end with negotiated settlements; victory tends to stick better. Attempts to intervene from outside have largely failed to end the 25-year-old Sri Lanka civil war, in which the LTTE (popularly known as Tamil Tigers) have fought for independence from Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka's not a big state, nor a rich one--the disruption has been devastating to its population, and quite a thorn in the side of India (who has a large Tamil minority in its southeast). The rebels, who claim a large swath of northern coastal territory in Sri Lanka as "Tamil homeland," are on the US and EU terror lists for their treatment of civilians during the conflict. But to be truly fair, the Colombo government hasn't been much nicer.

The rebels have been surprisingly well-armed during the entire ordeal, able to strike Sri Lankan military installations multiple times in the last year with a fighter-bomber wing that the Sri Lankans have struggled to destroy. But a renewed offensive, in which the Sri Lankan military has taken heavy casualties, recaptured the central-eastern part part of the country and the critical Jaffna Pennensula at the northernmost part of the island. The rebels have been collapsed to a defensive pod (the pink shown in the picture to the right), and have held strong. But a recent three-day battle with heavy casualties has broken the rebel front lines on the north-facing side of the Tamil stronghold.

The territory is jungle, and thus very friendly to the local Tamils, who are likely able to move rather freely throughout the area; this will make fighting here not only tought, but a Vietnam kind of tough. The government may have to resort to seriously heavy-handed tactics througout the last phases of the operation to smoke out the Tigers once and for all--even if this will make reconstruction and reintegration more difficult.

I mean to emphasize that there will not be a quick and easy victory in store for the Sri Lankan military-- but the momentum is certainly theirs, and their casualty-acceptance has gone up significantly as morale increases. The ability of the Tigers to launch air strikes or move in major formations without being hit by Sri Lankan air power has diminished significantly, and the Sri Lankan military should begin to assume flanking operations on one side of the front if it has kept reserves properly ready. It must sieze the initiative.

If it does not, the Tamils may resort to trying to stretch the conflict out through a Maoist insurgency--of the style used by the Chinese Red Army in the 1930's, the Viet Cong in the 1960's. Such a style of asymmetric warfare has a surprisingly high rate of success against local governments when the purpose is to stretch their supply lines, decrease their morale, and generally increase costs.

That said, the likelihood that the Tigers will be able to turn the tide in full at this point is very low. They do not have a large population to continually draw fighters from, and their area of operation has shrunk so low that they will struggle to avoid decisive battles like this most recent one--Maoist-style insurgencies can only succeed if the rebels have the ability to continually retreat and regroup--hit-and-run tactics against patrols between long-term rests in relatively friendly territory are essential in being able to carry out a protracted conflict. The Tamils' ability to do that is quickly shrinking; the Sri Lankan military's superior manpower, training, and resources should bring them victory in the next few months.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

India Takes Pirate Problems Into Own Hands

The Indians have had enough of Somali pirate hubris. After having a ship almost hijacked last week (among a slough of others), the INS Tabar, confronted a pirate "mothership," and told the men on board that the ship was going to be searched. Now if you've ever seen Waterworld, think of the undead Exxon Valdez, but all the crew have RPGs.

When the Indians tell these guys they're going to be searched, they start firing their RPGs and light arms. Now I don't know if you've ever seen a missile frigate, but if you did, I bet you would know better than trying to scare it off with light arms. They're not only armed to the teeth with surface-to-surface missiles, but have a bow and stern cannons and heavy machine guns bristling from all corners.

The Tabar was pleased to have an excuse to open fire. The details are few, but it likely tossed off a few SS missiles and hit a few weapons caches, and the "mothership" went down. A few speedboats ran off, but they likely lost their supplies and leadership.

Of course, there are many pirate factions in Somalia. The Mogadishu government is mostly... nonexistent. The Indians, Russians, Americans, Brits, and Saudis will have to start policing the waters themselves, and continue this kind of anti-pirate offensive--if they do, Somali thieves may decide the occasional oil tanker isn't worth the risk of taking SS missiles in the face.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

New Pieces in Place in Iraq

Two major events have happened in the last day that are going to make Mr. Obama's life significantly easier when he enters office. The first is the passing of the Status of Forces Agreement (SoFA) in the Iraqi Cabinet. The second is the setting of a date for provincial elections in 14 of 18 provinces of Iraq.

The Status of Forces Agreement is a treaty that the US has tried to acquire for many months, granting US forces some form of extended stay in Iraq (after the UN Mandate runs out on Dec 31, 2008). The issue has been hotly debated and altered many times; US troops will have less freedom to operate, a tighter Rules of Engagement (ROE), more oversight, and more deadlines than before. Earlier, Shiites in parliament had stated that they would not agree to the previous version of the pact, which granted US troops too much leeway. Most parliament members will probably publicly oppose the pact, but vote for it anyway, and claim that there was little else they could do--ultimately, Iraqi parliament knows that it needs the US for security more than the US needs Iraq for its reputation and values. This has become very clear in the past two weeks, which have carried a rise in violence.

In its first major step towards ratification, the pact got 27 of 28 votes in cabinet to be moved on to the legislature for approval. The legislature is unlikely to be as one-sided as Maliki's hand-picked cabinet--parliament is indeed made up of many factioned parties--but the near-unanimous approval of the cabinet will be a push for any fence-sitting legislators. In addition, Maliki has managed to forge a comrpomise with Cleric Al-Sistani, the most powerful religious figure in Iraq, to avoid openly opposing the pact. This should put most Shiites on board with the Kurds in parliament and, along with pro-US Sunni forces, they should likely make up a majority.

Provincial elections are complicated. In 2005, boycotts led to very lopsided victories, which led to Sunni worries of domination, which led to bombing a few mosques here and there, which led to reprisals, which led to civil war. Today, the provincial appointments remain lopsided, but the new elections aim to change that. Currently, Tamil and the three Kurdish provinces will not be voting on January 31, when everyone else votes. There are not yet sufficient rules for Kurdish semi-autonomous provinces for parliament to be able to deal with their vote, and Tamil's status is under contention by Arabs, Turkmen, and Kurds as to whether it should be semi-autonomous or not. Because no agreement on rules for these 4 provinces could be made, the elections--originally slated for October--were pushed back. The compromise so far has been to allow for elections in 14 provinces and figure the other ones out later--probably a pretty good idea. Of the 4 left-our provinces, only Tamil has serious potential for the ethnosectarian makeup of its leadership to change--the Kurdish provinces are mostly happy with their leadership.

After the 31st of January, 2 effects should be seen: First, an increased confidence rating by local citizens about their government's ability to act fairly and effectively. Disproportionate election results have meant a sense of oppression for many Iraqis, and that is likely to change. Second, a sense of compromise is likely to take hold in Iraqi leadership. Previously, parties with a disproportionate majority had incentives to try and brute-force their interests, and disproportionate minority parties had an incentive to block anything trying to go through. With more pluralistic representation, decisions will require multi-party support, and the incentive will be to start by compromising.

Both decisions will make President Obama's life easier. The first means he has a guide to troop withdrawal, and can avoid doing anything politically risky by making serious decisions one way or the other. The second will lead to long-term political reconciliation in Iraq, which will reduce violence and leave a more functional country upon US withdrawal--and he will be able to take all the credit.
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