Thursday, January 17, 2008

US Army Even More Optimistic Than Me

Gen. David Petraeus was accused of being a blind optimist, and even an idiot, when he said that a surge of five brigades and a new strategy could bring the crippling sectarian civil war in Iraq under control. Gen. Petraeus insists that he is not an optimist, and I am inclined to agree.

I, on the other hand, make no denials when I am called an optimist. Nonetheless, I have good reason to be so. The Iraq situation gets better with each month, and even elements of the US Army that dubbed Petraeus an optimist are starting to see that what he's doing is not just a temporary miracle-- it may well bring sustained peace.

In a release by Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, Anbar province, once Iraq's most vicious militia stronghold, is slotted for full handover to Iraqi security forces by March-- a huge victory for Petraeus's strategy, and an undeniable sign that the former Sunni militias have thrown their support to the Iraqi government.

But that's not the really optimistic part-- Odierno also went so far as to say that all 18 of Iraq's provinces would probably be handed over by the end of the year-- before the next president gets into power. Even Obama's aggressive withdrawal timetable would have only so much impact on the extended security operations in Iraq through 2009 and 2010.

Should this timetable be fulfilled, the Iraq policies of both the Republican and Democratic nominees will have a greatly diminished importance. But more importantly, it will mean a safer Iraq for its citizens and security, as well as the US troops that are bound to remain for years to come, however many that may be.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Implications of the Taiwanese Election

For the past 10 years, Taiwan's politics has been dominated by the struggle between the Kuomintang (or Nationalists or KMT, leader of the Blue Coalition), and the Democratic People's Party (or DPP, leader of the Green Coalition), as well as the DPP's slight edge in parliamentary seats and ownership of the executive.

But that's all about to change. The struggle now seems a thing of the past; the Taiwanese people have handed the KMT a resounding victory in this month's parliamentary elections. The KMT will have 81 of the parliament's 113 seats, where the DPP's share has been cut down to 27.

What does this mean for future policy? The KMT is the old party of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, but since holding its first elections in the 1980's, has remained steadfast in promoting eventual reunification with the Mainland, and has sought stronger economic and political ties with Beijing. The DPP, and Green Coalition overall, supports Taiwanese independence, and has worked to try to politically isolate Taiwan from Beijing's grasp.

But the past 10 years have marked explosive growth for the Mainland's economy... and a mere puttering for the island of Taiwan. Chen Shui-Bian's pro-independence policies and aggressive saber-rattling have been seen by many in Taiwan as highly provocative to an increasingly powerful Mainland; one that, many feel, has a fully legitimate claim of sovereignty over Taiwan.

The KMT's landslide victory this month shows that the Taiwanese people hope for both greater economic growth and greater cooperation with Beijing, and perhaps sooner-than-thought reunification.

For the United States, a Taiwan that hopes for reunification will be a Taiwan that will begin to shed its close ties with Washington. Arms deals will shrink in time. US Gunboat Diplomacy in the Taiwan Straits area may never happen again. But most importantly, near-reunification and reunification mean that China and the United States will shed their most divisive point of contention--Taiwan will simply no longer be an issue for the two nations to quarrel over.

At that point, the US and China may be able to work a little harder at getting along.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Rise of the Pacific

Security "experts" with access to large-scale media organs have expressed concern for at least a decade over the growth of China's navy, and its increasing ability to intervene in situations that we don't want them to--Taiwan, the Spratly Islands, and a few territorial disputes with Japan and South Korea. Non-experts that I've spoken to sometimes think that the US is vulnerable to being invaded by China. With boats. Seriously?

While everyone likes to pretend they're an expert on these things at cocktail parties so they can pick up some cute music major, misinforming other freedom-loving Americans with false vague impressions of the Pacific is the kind of thing that could get the United States into a cold war mentality--and perhaps create a self-fulfilling prophecy--with China.

The US public needs to relax a bit on the China issue. I shall explain why:

1) China's military is not that awesome. It might not even currently be able to conquer Taiwan on its own, and certainly wouldn't be able to if the local US Carrier Fleet (stationed in Yokohama) intervened. It has zero aircraft carriers, compared to the 12 that the US sports.

2) The Japanese, Russians, and Indians have navies, too. Remember them? Right, them. None of them are exactly China's biggest fans, particularly the Japanese. While they may get along, none of them is going to lay back and let one of them run around the Pacific building an unchecked empire. China's navy is divided into a north, south, and east fleet specifically because it has to deal with the Russians and South Koreans in the north, the Taiwanese and Japanese in the east, and the Indians (and Vietnamese, Philippinos, Indonesians, Malaysians; small on their own, but together, enough to be a harassment) in the south.

India currently has an aircraft carrier of its own, is building another one for late this year, and expects shipment of a third from Russia this year, as well. That's 3 aircraft carriers, which is exactly 3 more than anyone in the Pacific has, besides the US. They will not be a force to be trifled with.

The Russian fleet is rebuilding extremely quickly under Putin (and, soon, his puppet), and the Pacific fleet has a number of top-of-the-line Soveremenny destroyers and an extensive logistics/supply/repair fleet to keep them moving.

The Japanese have a stock of Destroyers that rivals the Chinese, despite constitutional blocks on their Self Defense spending. If this ban is lifted, they could quickly grow even stronger.

Ultimately, the US doesn't have to worry about the Pacific too much, as long as all four of these great states keep rising at a pretty even pace. India, in particular, has the growth potential to keep China almost completely in check on its own. So the Chinese won't be invading the US any time soon--I can't say much about Taiwan, but I don't share nearly as much concern over the little island as many American security experts.

And frankly, I'm pretty excited about this naval rise in the Pacific. If the US cannot possibly dominate the region, then the incentive for the US to spend as if it could drops dramatically. We could reduce our carrier fleet number from 12 to maybe 9 or 10, and let the status-quo-loving states of the Pacific keep things peaceful on their own.

Unlike their European counterparts, the powers of the Pacific see no need to free-ride off the military of the US, and they are choosing to depend on themselves for security. And if the primary concern for the US in the Pacific is peace and prosperity (which it should be; Democracy is nice, but it tends to form after prosperity in the Pacific-- see South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines), then self-management on the parts of China, India, Russia, and Japan, is fully in our favor, even if they don't get along that well.

The US should keep a carrier fleet or two ready to move in and make a stand where it has to should it need to, but being the unquestioned superpower in East Asia seems like a dilapidated policy which the US--for the sake of its taxpayers, if nothing more--should drop.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Shameless Digression

The Iowa caucuses were today! I may be a foreign policy wonk, but I have been pinned to my seat, and have been talking lots of speculation about the election with friends. Here's the numbers:

For the Democrats, with 97% of precincts reporting:

Obama, 38%
Edwards, 30%
Clinton, 29%
Everyone else: 3% total

For the Republicans, with 85% of precincts reporting:

Huckabee, 34%
Romney, 25%
McCain, 14%
Thompson, 13%
Paul, 10%
Giuliani, 4%

Now, we all know that Iowa has huge influence on the rest of the primaries, but most influence comes in a candidate's ability to pull surprises or upsets.

Upsets and my speculation for the Democrats:

Obama clearly got a huge win today, and pulled a 7% lead out of a race that should have been wire-tight. Why? Polls only asked Democrats what they thought, where Obama pulled a huge percentage of Independents in Iowa. New Hampshire allows Independents to vote, as well, and I really think it's going to give him the state, rather decisively. The third state, South Carolina, has a large black population, and an (allegedly, I've only heard this by word-of-mouth) a large Oprah following (she's been campaigning hard for him).

Hillary's "war machine" depends a lot on her air of inevitability, and that has been not only seriously wounded this caucus, but might well be dead by the time Obama emerges from South Carolina with a third win. Going into Super Tuesday with that much momentum, Obama's got a very good chance of winning this nomination, and the Clinton campaign will get desperate, launch some increasingly bitter attacks against Mr. Obama, and probably collapse as its largely female following loses hope. While I don't think Iowa typically decides an election on its own, I'm going to predict Obama wins this nomination, in a huge comeback.

For the Republicans, it's largely anyone's game still. Huckabee may have won big in Iowa, but the New Hampshirites really can't stand him. Romney has spent obscene amounts of money and time in Iowa trying to get the early victory, and his campaign is surely quite frustrated at being upset by a relative newcomer--the money seems wasted. Romney has a small lead among Republicans in New Hampshire, but McCain has been crawling back, there in particular, and will draw Independents in the state more than Romney will. I say New Hampshire is up in the air, between these two.

Thompson may have made a good showing in Iowa, but has little chance anywhere else. Giuliani wasn't supposed to do well in Iowa; he concentrated his efforts in Super Tuesday states--but his popularity is waning as he seems to have more baggage than voters previously thought.

Should Romney lose in New Hampshire to McCain (and it's one hell of a tight race), he is probably done for good; his 15.4% approval nationwide is not going to go up from there, and it won't be enough to carry him. Huckabee, if nothing else, has probably finished Romney with his big upset in Iowa.

But what of Huckabee, long-term? After losing New Hampshire, not much will happen before Super Tuesday. While he leads in national polls taken at the new year, Republican talking heads like Coulter, Hannity, and Limbaugh are campaigning strongly against him. His own baggage is just starting to emerge, and moderate Republicans are probably going to lead a movement of rejecting him. My off-the-record talks with some of the right wing's most powerful pundits have revealed that the Party Elite highly disapproves of Huckabee's "Christian Socialism," and they will fight bitterly to see him finished.

McCain seems like the only guy whose life is going uphill in the Republican party, and after he wins New Hampshire, I think people will start taking him seriously again: despite the "Bomb Iran" musical fiasco. Giuliani has huge leads in some important states, like California, Florida, and New York, but when the heartland comes to vote in Super Tuesday, he's unlikely to run away with the majority.

If I had to put money on a Republican candidate today, it would be McCain--he seems to have some momentum, and his biggest rivals seem to have chewed each other into a chunky pulp. But this speculation has very low confidence, and could change with an aberration with ease.

Either way, this is exciting stuff. This is the most wide-open election since 1952, and I'll be very excited to watch it all. You should be, too.

And you should vote. Really.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Iraq Economic Data

A few of my readers bugged me to go look for indicators in Iraq that were non-military. Certainly, there's more going on than death and occupation, so I actually decided to go hunting. I found the Associated Press' (along with lots of other long-term indicators).

I was honestly rather surprised to see not only that the Iraqi economy wasn't in terrible shape, but it seems to be doing better (by some indicators) than before the MNF invaded at all. Of all things down from prewar production, oil is the big one.


_Prewar: 2.58 million barrels per day.

_Dec. 19, 2007: 2.42 million barrels per day.


_Prewar nationwide: 3,958 megawatts. Hours per day (estimated): four to eight.

_Dec. 18, 2007, nationwide: 4,240 megawatts. Hours per day: 11.9.

_Prewar Baghdad: 2,500 megawatts. Hours per day (estimated): 16-24.

_Dec. 18, 2007, Baghdad: Megawatts not available. Hours per day: 8.9.

_Note: Current Baghdad megawatt figures are no longer reported by the U.S. State Department's Iraq Weekly Status Report.


_Prewar land lines: 833,000.

_March 13, 2007: 1,111,000.

_Prewar cell phones: 80,000.

_June 2007: 9,204,000.


_Prewar: 12.9 million people had potable water.

_Oct. 18, 2007: 19.6 million people have potable water.


_Prewar: 6.2 million people served.

_Oct. 18, 2007: 11.3 million people served.


I've been thinking for some time about demand-side economics in insurgencies: people are less likely to go out and try to overthrow the government when it is providing stuff like power, water, sewage, and trash collection (can't find data on that). So this has very good long-term implications... at least for stability.

Furthermore, GDP growth is erratic, but positive, since the rather damaging invasion ended. See it here.

So there you have it.