Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bush is Squandering an Opportunity in Pakistan

By continuing to throw support to President Musharraf, Bush is alienating the Pakistani people, and thus the new ruling coalition that is likely to oust Bush's ally. Bush cannot be said to lack loyalty, but unfortunately, he can certainly be said to lack common sense. If this stance is not voluntarily and quickly reversed, it will result in--as a loyal reader of mine said when she pointed me to the article--"Failboat."

Pakistan is the primary front in the War on Terror, and is a battle that the United States must take a subordinate role in. I am ending this day, unfortunately, with frustration.

China and Grad School

Things are happening! I just got a lot of interesting news this morning, in two parts.

News the first:
I am going to grad school! I just got an offer from MIT to take a 5th year and get a Master's of Science in Political Science. I've said yes, but there are a few details to be worked out. I am likely to write my thesis on America's China Strategy, and why it needs to change. More on all that later.

News the second:
I have received a job offer from Horizon Research Consultancy Group in Beijing. I am not sure what project I will be working on yet, nor the details of my stay, but I will be in China for at least 10 weeks (hopefully avoiding as much of the Olympics as I can). I am, in addition, hoping to stay as late as possible after the Internship ends so I can run around and travel; I want to get to Xi'an, Shanghai, Chongqing, Tianjin, and Lhasa at a minimum.

I will be blogging about my experiences as long as I have an internet connection. I will be taking pictures and commenting on what I see throughout the country; I am hoping to both improve my Chinese language skills and my "cultural understanding," whatever that means.

More details on all of this to follow, too. I hope you are all excited to follow me through my travels.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Coming Olympics are Keeping China in Check

I am sitting in my International Relations of East Asia class, and we've got a "current events in East Asia" section at the beginning of each day. And in it, the Olympics keep coming up. I am thinking "you know, when the Olympics were held in Salt Lake City or Athens, nobody cared." The Beijing Olympics, on the other hand, is getting more buzz than the suppression of Burmese demonstrators, spats in the South China Sea over oil drilling rights, and other major East Asian problems. Why?

Turns out, China is bent on the Olympics being a big success. For China, this is perhaps the largest major sign of respect from the West since the Nixon-Mao meetings in 1971. China's emotional and societal investment in these Olympics have led to not only obnoxious spending in Beijing to make it west-friendly, but has kept the Chinese in an accommodating state to their neighbors and the West; it is clear the Chinese hope to come out of the Olympics this August with the respect and admiration of the West, and are trying very hard to avoid drawing any bad publicity leading up to the summer. This need for good public relations has kept the Chinese government in check, and should provide a window for the United States and the West to forge an improved relationship with the Chinese that could extend far beyond August.

What important issues is the US taking advantage of now? Skillfully enough, Washington is tackling two of the four most pressing issues that China is involved with: North Korea and Chinese human rights (whereas the trade gap and the Taiwan issue are not particularly being pushed). Taiwan may have had an opportunity to make moves for independence before August because of the self-restraint of the Chinese government, but the victory of the KMT in Taiwan has neutralized the independence movement, and probably led to the US State Department's dropping of the subject. In fact, I have just heard from Prof. Fravel that she has come out and officially called a referendum in Taiwan to join the UN under the name of Taiwan "provocative," which is a strong assurance to the Chinese that the US is not going to back any pro-independence movements on the part of Taiwan.

On the topic of human rights, Secretary of State Rice has used the current political landscape to re-open human rights development talks with the Communist Party. These talks had been closed for five years, but recent human rights pressure from Steven Spielberg (who quit the Olympics because of human rights issues) and the UK government (which specifically banned its athletes from speaking out against the human rights situation in China) has pushed the Beijing government to look for a better public relations stance on the issue, and the US Department of State was happy to give them such an opportunity by re-opening the talks. The dialogue will address both internal Chinese human rights issues (in particular religious freedom and freedom of speech) and China's relationship with the Sudanese government over Darfur (though China has already sent some token troops to the UN peacekeeping mission there in hopes of bolstering its position on the topic).

On North Korea, the Chinese promised Secretary Rice that they would use their influence over North Korea (which has been larger than that of any other country in the world since North Korea's inception) to convince them to fully disarm their nuclear weapons program. China has, in the past, been instrumental in making sure the six-nation talks over North Korea's detonated nuclear weapon went smoothly. China took a back seat after North Korea promised to halt its program, but the United States has been asking for help in finishing the disarmament once and for all.

Interestingly, Rice has also been looking to stay friendly with the North Korean government, in what she has called "Violin Diplomacy," by allowing the New York Philharmonic Orchestra to play in Pyongyang (including pieces like "An American in Paris," the US National Anthem, and the North Korean National Anthem).

China's self-restraint and need for good public image seems to be leading to improved foreign relations throughout East Asia, including relations between third-party countries. The trick here is for the United States to take advantage of this opportunity to begin a full-frontal engagement of China and lock in diplomatic and economic ties that can set a good ending note for the Bush Administration and present a good-natured opening in Sino-American relations for the next US president.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Musharraf Might be Bowing Out

We've already talked about the possibility of impeachment of Musharraf by an alliance in parliament by the People's Party and Muslim League-N in Pakistan. At this point, it appears as if Musharraf may try to preempt them and step down himself.

Musharraf has made no overt signs that he is going to resign, but different sources (particularly Stratfor) have been talking a bit about signs they have seen: The Telegraph (UK) has quoted anonymous top aides as saying that the President may be stepping down in a matter of days. Stratfor claims that some of President Bush's senior advisers are investigating the most elegant way for Musharraf to leave.

While Musharraf has seemed to fight tooth-and-nail to hold on to his power in the past, he may have not realized that there is none left for him to hold on to. If the Bush administration is successfully aiding the power transition to a Sharif-led government, Washington's relationship with Pakistan may indeed remain strong, in large part thanks to the political power of the Pakistani Army (a highly pro-Global War on Terror entity).

The US should continue helping Musharraf move out, and both welcome and support the new government, in hopes that US-supported Pakistani anti-terror operations are not hindered. In fact, as we've speculated on earlier, a more widely-supported coalition may reduce political support for the Taliban in the northwest, as they will no longer represent an anti-Musharraf institution, but instead an anti-state one.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Navy Acquires Experimental Rail Gun

In late January 2008, BAE Systems delivered a 32 Megajoule Laboratory Rail-Gun to the United States Navy. This spectacularly powerful weapon will eventually be capable of hitting a target the size of a car from more than 200 nautical miles away. Impact velocity will be somewhere between 7000 miles/hour to 44 000 miles/hour - 8 to 50 times the speed of sound! By comparison modern artillery weaponry can achieve a maximum projectile speed of about 3500 miles per hour. The best part is the projectile. It requires no propellant, it only weighs in at 7 pounds and, because it is basically a lump of metal, it’s cheap.

This weapon is incredibly powerful. Each shot packs more punch than a Tomahawk cruise missile.

Test firing of the 32MJ Railgun Lab Launcher.
Note the 'flames' trailing from the projectile. This is a result of the projectile traveling so fast that it essentially "burns the air", and not because there is some kind of propellant.

More after the jump.

Fearsome technical specifications aside, what are the implications of developing such a weapon? Will it have an impact (pardon the pun) on anyone besides enemies of the United States? The answer: Possibly.

Like most cutting-edge research, the real gains come from spinoff technology. Take the oft-cited moon missions from the 60's. Everything from medical imaging to ear thermometers are attributed to technology originally intended for space exploration missions. Hopefully there will be a similar result from development of the rail-gun.

Rail-guns operate by accelerating a ferro-magnetic projectile using strong magnetic fields (specifically the Lorentz force). One of the more obvious applications for this technology is launching objects into space/orbit. For decades scientists have speculated about building a large magnetic accelerator that would be capable of launching craft into space. It has the potential to drastically reduce the costs involved in sending something into orbit (like satellites, space station modules, etc). This would have many trickle down benefits for the many people like reducing communication costs, drastically decreasing transportation times for travellers (think New York to Paris in 30 minutes). Digging deeper, there is also a large amount of research being done to improve superconductors and power storage techniques (capacitors). Cheap high-temperature superconductors have thousands of potential applications: motors, fusion reactors, transformers, the list goes on.

So it can be shown that even though developing more destructive weaponry is arguably not the best thing to spend our money and time on at first blush, there are many benefits that could be had from such research. This doesn't just apply to rail-guns or weapons development in general however. Any technology that requires huge investment in resources can end up generating far more technology and beneficial results than initially expected. It should be something everyone should keep in mind when considering projects like the next moon/mars missions or the construction of the Large Hadron Collider.

More information about the rail-gun:
Details about the military's plans for the rail-gun on and

The basic theory of how a rail-gun works on

Friday, February 22, 2008

Al-Sadr Has a Hitchcock-Like Flair for Suspense

Cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr (that handsome gentleman pictured below) has extended his ceasefire in a most last-minute way today. With the previous ceasefire with US and Iraqi forces (set six months ago) due to expire Sunday, the Cleric was making very few noises as to whether or not he would continue it further. US Analysts were baffled as to whether he would continue the ceasefire or not... in large part due to the fact that nobody is quite sure what Al-Sadr wants. But extend it he did, and there are lessons to be drawn from today's news.

Al-Sadr seems to have first declared a ceasefire because the Mahdi Army (his personal militant group) was in trouble. They had started fighting with other Shiite groups, and got pretty beat up in the process, back in July. He hoped to reorganize, regroup, and bring a newfound discipline to the army before deciding what to do next.

At the time, it seemed that he wasn't prepared to start working together with American or pro-American elements in Iraq. His rhetoric remained strong. Despite this, American military and political officials praised his decision, and (sortof) implicitly pardoned the Mahdi Army (though there have since been arrests, much to Al-Sadr's chagrin). The current extension comes with little public reasoning, other than commitments to peaceful vanquishing of Allah's enemies (the US), as well as the intruders (US), invaders (US), infidels (yeah, you get the idea), and the like.

The US army is extremely appreciative of the move. With sharp positive trends in Iraqi security over the past six months, Al-Sadr's ceasefire has given the Multi-National Force and Iraqi Army time to build infrastructure, to consolidate security in other hot spots, and, most importantly, win the support and trust of Iraqi civilians. If Al-Sadr's army, presumably rebuilt, resumed operations, much of the "delicate" (as Gen. Petraeus consistently calls it) progress could start to fall apart.

Why did Al-Sadr extend the ceasefire, particularly if it helps the United States' goals? These are some of my speculations, but it is likely to be one or more of these:

1) The US is giving him immunity in return. With US and Iraqi troop levels still high, an end to peace could do more damage to the Mahdi army than to the US. American troop levels are likely to decline after the summer, and Al-Sadr may try to be patient and take better opportunities, later. In addition, the US is respecting the ceasefire, and may have even decided not to arrest or kill him if given the opportunity, which will largely allow him to power-grab in the Shiite regions of Iraq unmolested.

2) The Mahdi army is not yet rebuilt.
It's possible Al-Sadr is dissatisfied with the progress of the last six months, and thinks the next six months will bring about more. Alliances or deals with other groups may still be in the works. Either way, it's possible he is anticipating the Army's strength growing.

3) Al-Sadr's plan has backfired, and he has lost support. This is the most interesting possibility. The Mahdi army did very well in part due to the fact that it could provide security when American and Iraqi forces could not; Mahdi Army agents patrolled neighborhoods and protected civilians in return for monetary or other support. Because Al-Sadr declared a ceasefire during the surge, security improved very quickly as US troops became more present in urban neighborhoods. With the Mahdi army gone and US and Iraqi troops happy to provide security (and effectively) for free, support for the Mahdi army among many of their former patrons may have declined. Radical Shiites may not amongst themselves own enough resources to make the Mahdi army as strong as it once was. Given this, extended peace may be Al-Sadr's only good plan.

Lessons: What US policymakers should learn from this move is that militant groups can be dealt with in ways other than military. Al-Sadr may not be in much contact with Multi-National Forces, but there is some, and communication between both groups has passed through public hearings and press conferences; Al-Sadr may have to talk tough, but the careful listener can often hear where he is willing to make deals.

Sometimes, making deals with militant groups is key; fighting them all at once has proven impossible in Iraq, and similar efforts will yield similar results in future conflicts. We have learned that some Muslim extremists are more reasonable than others; some have real, tangible political goals, and those goals can be bargained with, like with any political group with an army. We must distinguish between Al-Qaeda-like groups (whose goals, like "Death to America," cannot be discussed or bargained), and groups like the Mahdi Army, whose political goals may cost us less to help than to hinder.

Hopefully, this cease-fire will help Petraeus and the Multi-National Forces shore up the security situation in Iraq over the next six months. Now, we just have to wait for the Iraqi parliament to start meeting more of those benchmarks.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Foggofwar is Now Playing in the Big Leagues

Many of my loyal readers know I have been making a push for publicity and popularity as of late. I have made changes to the blog to make it look more professional and presentable, and have even included a spiffy new logo. I hope you all like the changes; feel free to leave comments with critiques.

You'll also notice we're now registered at Yes, we've got our own domain now! I decided to drop the $10/year on it, because hey, why not? will still forward here, as I'm still hosted by blogspot (that is, Google, Provider of All Things). But now we're legitimate.

Edit: Please welcome Unleaded as a new author for Foggofwar; he will be the site's web designer and adviser, as well as author of the occasional article. He's got a big leg up on me on a lot of the aerospace and hardware stuff.

But keep reading! I hope this is as much fun for all of you as it is me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Pakistan's Democracy Finally Works

I am both shocked and jubilant. In the days leading to Pakistan's parliamentary elections, I assumed (like many Pakistanis, apparently) that President Musharraf's military and political allies would successfully rig the parliamentary elections to help him stay in power. But, for some reason or another, he didn't. Perhaps he was looking to simply survive (he has even more angry militant enemies than Bhutto did), or maybe he simply has spent the last 8 years doing what he thought was right, even if, from here, his actions looked like purely personal power-grabbing. But Musharraf has shocked me (and others) in letting the elections happen in what international observers have said was accurate and fair.

In this election, 242 seats were up for contest. Of these, early returns show the Pakistan People's Party (ala Bhutto) winning ~80, Pakistan Muslim League-N (ala Sharif) winning ~66, and Pakistan Muslim League-Q (ala Musharraf) winning only 38. The outcome is promising--past Pakistani opposition has traditionally been dominated by highly religious parties, but the People's Party is secularist, and Muslim League-N is a moderate group with highly competent leadership.

People's Party and Muslim League-N have been in coalition talks for months, and are in them again already. Should such a coalition emerge, they could theoretically run a government without any other parties involved (particularly, the Muslim League-Q). They'd also be able to impeach Musharraf if their members voted in force, and I believe they are likely to do so. While Ms. Bhutto had been willing to work with Musharraf, Sharif was so opposed to the idea that he was threatening parliamentary boycott. With Ms. Bhutto dead (and her son leading her party), Sharif emerged as the single most experienced and respected politician in Pakistan, and is likely to have a great deal of influence over the People's Party's leadership. Furthermore, the coalition would have a large enough parliamentary majority that they would have no need to hold on to Mr. Musharraf, unless he can propose to them some sort of favors that a replacement president would not be able to provide. But for the most part, he is at the mercy of the new coalition.

Interestingly, these results may show that Al-Qaeda militancy in the northwest may have gained them local ground, but it has still created vast secular and moderate cohesion against them in the rest of Pakistan, even among the majority that oppose Musharraf's aggressive anti-militant activities. Pakistan avoided a religious uprising or conservative backlash--they voted out Musharraf's party and replaced it with liberal-secular options, which should long-term be beneficial to the United States, should Bush manage to not screw up the early relationship with the new government. Remember that Ms. Bhutto had said that she was willing to work with the United States in the war against Al-Qaeda in the northwest of Pakistan, and her victorious People's Party won by carrying on the bulk of her policy ideas.

New cohesion and better competence in government is going to bring great domestic change to Pakistan, and hopefully, the new government will find a way to finally deal with the northwestern frontier. I am indeed holding my breath; I believe that the Pakistani battleground is at a critical point, and could well fall to the United States' primary enemy. On the other hand, should the new government succeed in rooting out Al-Qaeda, the citizens of the United States will be safer than they have been since the early 1990's. Furthermore, if Al-Qaeda falls, restoring Afghanistan to order will become a possibility in the medium-term future. Karachi's government is in need of relief from militants; they are making gains in the business of terror.

So I am full of hope, and apprehension. If this new government cannot solve the Al-Qaeda problem, I do not know who will be able to do so.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

New Country Alert

Yes, Kosovo: you probably already know about it. If you don't, shame on you.

Kosovo is shamelessly pro-western, and is still grateful to NATO for its intervention in stopping Serbian ethnic cleansing of the area in the 1990's. The Serbs still hold the territory dear, and are not yet willing to recognize that it's gone. Russia is willing to back up the Serbian claim, and has been blasting the EU and US for supporting Kosovoan independence. Kosovo seems doomed to be part of the Russia v. West struggle that is arising in Eastern Europe (though I'm not sure for entirely what reason).

Kosovo is likely to turn to NATO and the EU for support; I predict they will be petitioning for membership as soon as possible. NATO seems to be looking to mop up as much of Eastern Europe as possible, giving speedy membership action plans to many Eastern European states. Seven states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovenia) joined NATO in 2004, 3 more should be joining this April (Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia), and Georgia, Ukraine, and Montenegro are on track to be inducted in a few years. Kosovo is likely to go the way of Albania in its own time, but ethnic Albanian love for the EU, the US, and the West as a whole is likely to keep NATO enthusiastic about their rapid inclusion.

Serbia's reluctance to let Kosovo go may make the region unstable (and if not, it will certainly remain hostile), but NATO peacekeeping troops and EU advisers should keep the Serbians from doing anything too rash. Inclusion into NATO means (in article V) that an attack on Kosovo would constitute an attack on every member nation of NATO; such inclusion is then likely to keep Kosovo safe from any Serbian attacks, but unfortunately, it may mean that, far in the future, Serbia remains the only Balkan state not in the alliance.

For now, good luck to the Kosovoans. I hope their adventures in self-government turn out well.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Eastern Europe is Heating Up Again

Just when we thought that Europe was no longer a problem (perhaps we have been ignoring it due to the Middle East, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa...), forces in Eastern Europe have started to turn it into a hot spot once more.

Perhaps some of these issues will fizzile, but for now, bitterness and tension are growing over events-about-to-happen, as well as a West vs. Russia proxy war over the loyalty of Eastern Europe States.

The first fight: Will the undecided factions of Eastern Europe end up pro-West or pro-Russia? Ukraine and Serbia are critical battlegrounds (where places like Poland, the Czech Republic, and Albania are clearly West-leaning, and Moldova and Belarus are Russian-leaning), where both sides are using propaganda and low-level political support (including criticism of opposition parties) to help coalitions loyal to them win. Yuschenko's victory in Ukraine two years ago scored a big win for the West, but his mandate has broken, and Ukraine is back up in the air. Pro-western forces barely won re-election in Albania. Why all the fighting over these states? The sense that a Cold War is returning is slowly and very reluctantly creeping back into foreign policy circles.

The second fight: Missile Shields. The US has made deals with Eastern states like Poland and Ukraine to provide (technologically questionable) anti-ballistic missile technology, and has been working for years to actually deliver--this shows a clear anti-Russian hostility (though the US State Department once insisted that it was to protect Europe from Iran) from both the US and these Eastern European states. The EU has been quiet on the subject, giving the US a silent mandate to continue. But the Russians are furious; enough so that Putin has threatened to target Eastern European states with its ballistic missiles if these states go ahead with US missile shield plans. I am not quite sure why the US is insisting on the shield, other than (now) to avoid looking like it will back down to Putin's demands.

The third fight: Kosovo. Elements of Serbia are strongly against the Kosovo secession, as is Russia, while the US and EU support it. The barely-majority government of Serbia has decided to let Kosovo go, despite its strong displeasure with the idea, and has told Serbia to brace for the fracture. The West will recognize Kosovo and give it the diplomatic legitimacy it needs to get on its feet, but all elements are hoping that this is the final fracture of the failed experiment of Yugoslavia.

As Russia grows, the West-Russia fight is likely to grow in magnitude, as well. The Russians are looking for, at the least, respect from the West. But until Russia is willing to play by the West's rules, the EU is unlikely to accept Russia into the fold, and high tensions will remain for a great deal of time to come.

The big losers out of all of this are, of course, the buffer states: former Soviet republics whose economies are only barely starting to recover from the Soviet planned economy can do little to stand up to Russia without Western support, and surely, many of them would rather work with all of their neighbors to improve their domestic economy, rather than engage in a faux Cold War, but they may be forced to choose a side. Should such coercion happen, they can only lose; siding with either coalition will hurt their economy if the losing coalition cuts them off, and leaning against Russia is likely to lead to very high security risk, unless the West is willing to fight for these nations (it's not). This is a classic bandwagoning problem, and we may see more of it in the future.

Keep an Eye on Hezbollah

Some of my more reputable intelligence sources (Stratfor, Global Security) have been hinting for a few months about the threat of a revived Israeli-Hezbollah war in northern Israel and southern Lebanon. Stratfor suggested that both sides were waiting for a spark; that Hezbollah had been rallying support after its surprising defence against Israel in 2006, and Israel has almost certainly been designing a new war plan to avoid a possibly humiliating repeat of 2006.

The spark has come, and both sides are on edge. After a well-placed bomb exploded under the car of infamous Hezbollah terrorist Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus, Hezbollah media has been quick to blame Israel's Mossad... and they might not be wrong, even if Israel is denying responsibility.

Mughinyeh, unlike Bin Laden, did not make media statements, but stayed in the shadows during his heyday in the 1980's and early 1990's, where he hijacked multiple planes, bombed multiple embassies, and bombed a US Marine base in Saudi Arabia, killing 241 marines: all this according to the US DoD. The US and Israel are certainly happy to see him go, even if he has not been active for some time.

Hezbollah is taking his death extremely seriously. Its leadership is not only blaming Israel for the attack, but has nearly declared war: Hezbollah chief Nasrallah said, "With this murder, its timing, location and method — Zionists, if you want this kind of open war, let the whole world listen: Let this war be open."

Given preparations by Hezbollah and Israel, war may soon break out. If Hezbollah carries through its threats to retaliate, the Israelil military is likely to make some sort of strike against Hezbollah positions (most likely starting with rocket-firing points).

But given the bitterness of the 2006 war, and Hezbollah's continued trouble-making for both Israel and Lebanon's pro-western elements, Israel may be hoping to break Hezbollah's militant force once and for all. With pro-western elements (largely) in charge, secret agreements might possibly have been made for Israeli forces to "breach and clear" southern Lebanon before the Lebanese military occupies and enforces law there... but this was tried in 2006, and with Hezbollah still a powerful force in the Lebanon parliament, decisive action will be difficult, at best.

But keep your eyes on Hezbollah and Israel. Fighting may ensue and escalate in the very near future, and this could lead to the biggest mess Israel has has on its hands in years.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

China is Playing an Odd Game

Usually, if a state is trying to show friendliness, it stays friendly. If it is trying to throw its weight around, it does not pander. If it is trying to subvert its enemies quietly, it stays quiet. China may be trying to do all three, particularly to the US and the West, and in the meantime, is leaving the US State Department baffled.

1) Friendliness. Perhaps to make up for terrible PR due to its relationship with the Sudan government and oil industry, China is sending PLA troops on a peacekeeping mission in Darfur, though it's only a 315-man engineering unit sent for UN support. While little more than a token gesture, it shows that Beijing is willing to make such gestures for the sake of goodwill.

Furthermore, PLA counter-terror troops continue to do joint drills with regional neighbors; most recently, Russia. In addition to the joint training with many Central Asian states, China seems to be making waves about being a front-line anti-terror state, though it's largely using this as justification for suppression of Uyghurs in its northwestern Xinjiang province.

2) Throwing Around Weight. China continues to refuse multilateral negotiations over the Spratly islands in the South China Sea, insisting bilateral relations with each of the ASEAN states involved. China's military spending is increasing each year, and while the coming Olympics has kept Beijing quiet on the Taiwan issue, the PLA Navy still looms. Though Taiwan's KMT victory is likely to lead to an ease in China's Taiwan stance--they will have a government they can talk to.

3) Subversion. The Pentagon claimed a few months ago that Chinese network spy-hackers had broken into Department of Defense Mainframes. Pings from Chinese government-controlled computers are ubiquitous, but are probably mostly for mapping purposes. Chinese officials occasionally try to bribe American network security experts for privileged information.

Most recently, the FBI has gone after 4 Chinese nationals and one former State Department analyst for the transfer of American military secrets for money. No word yet if the American analyst will be charged for treason, but for the FBI to make a public move like this in (what seems like) a traditional spy vs. spy game, one should start thinking that the FBI either has rock-hard evidence or a critical and urgent case. It's something worth keeping an eye on.

Ultimately, the Chinese are keeping their poker hand close to their chest. Their leadership talks of a "peaceful rise" (which they say most modern powers had not been able to achieve in the past), but is fully prepared for any espionage or military matter it might have to face. What China wants-- should it be only the return of Taiwan, control of the South China Sea, containment of Japan, or East Asian hegemony-- is uncertain, leaving the US in an awkward hedge strategy: the US is engaging China and trying to pull it close economically (though not diplomatically) as it rises, in hopes that US and Chinese interests might converge, but on the other hand, is keeping Taiwan's military strong, and encouraging Japanese naval growth to keep China in check.

It's an awkward game from both sides. What is likely to clear things up a bit is a more open statement by the Beijing leadership on what China wants... but I'm not even sure that they really know.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Why is Gaza Broken?

My first warning on this post is I really have no idea what the answer is. But there are a few points worth noting, that bring up a few questions.

1) The Hamas Coup. Still acting like a terror cell as much as a political party, Hamas' violent purging of Fatah in the Gaza Strip (as soon as it had a big enough advantage in firepower) has shown complete disregard for the creation of a stable independent state... but this is not surprising. The party officially still insists on the dissolution of Israel before peace is possible. How do you fix a region run like this? Not sure.

2) Geography. Making a country that is split by its greatest security threat (Gaza Strip and West Bank split by Israel) seems stupid, and it is. Germany hated Poland long before 1939 because of the Danzig Corridor, and an independent Palestine would have serious trouble maintaining administration, security, and trade unless Israel was willing to allow free flow, through Israel, between the two regions. Unfortunately, because of 50 years of constant terror and military threats from the Palestinian regions, such free flow is almost certainly politically infeasible (and probably not actually a great idea).

3) The Security Dilemma. Neither side (Israel or Palestine) is willing to promise peace without security assurances, and neither side can give these assurances, largely because of Hamas and other terror organizations. Israel could try to be the "grown-up," given its military strength, give Palestine its political and security concessions, wait for peace, and then get its own concessions later, but while Olmert and Abbas might be willing to work with this plan, non-state actors in Palestine (particularly Hamas-type fanatics) are impossible for the Palestinian state to effectively control, and they would likely continue to use terror to increase their political gains, as they have done in the past. Therefore, Abbas cannot possibly make security promises to Israel, and therefore, Israel cannot (in its own interest) let Palestine yet have a free state. Again, I do not know how to fix this dilemma.

4) The Arab States' lack of help. Well, some are helping. Egypt is trying, but Gazan refugees are starting to pour into Egypt, and the Egyptian PM is literally threatening to break legs. Egypt's cooperation with the Israeli blockade is somewhat rare. Iran's Hezobllah militants in Lebanon seem to be vying for another war with Israel, and Syria has refused to help make peace in the Palestine issue until gives back the Golan Heights--a mountain range through which Syria invaded Israel multiple times.

5) Israel's Inconsistency. Israel has been inconsistent about its responses against terror attacks by Gazan militants. Israel forced its settlers from Gaza (which was, in general, the right thing to do) amid uncharacteristically high terror attacks, which may have made Hamas think such terror attacks would win political victories... even now, Israel's military responses range from lackluster to extreme, and Palestinian civilians cannot be clear on what kind of behavior will bring them peace and prosperity. Palestine is much like a colony of Israel, and Israel will have to take care of the Palestinian people or let them be free... doing neither will only create more resentment.

But we are certainly stuck. Israel and Palestine both need promises of security before political progress can be made, and this makes one think "UN Intervention," but that's unlikely to happen anytime soon (and we see it failed rather miserably in the 2006 Israeli-Lebanon war).

I would love comments from readers on creative peace-making ideas.