Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Updates on African Hostage-Taking

While the stock market may be captivating our attention, we may have missed some recent hostage crises in Africa that are almost over, but have some interesting implications.

The first is an Egyptian hostage crisis, in which European tourists and Egyptian guides were kidnapped by African kidnappers that were demanding a ransom. They were let go (story from the hostages here) recently, but with some odd international events. There are rumors that the Italian government paid a ransom for the hostages' release, but the Italian government denies this, saying that they and Egyptian commandos freed the hostages in a raid; the hostages claim they know nothing of any raid, that they were simply told to go.

This is not necessarily a contradiction--it could be that the hostages were let go while the raid was coming (and the kidnappers had advance warning), and then the shootout happened. It's unlikely that no shootout happened at all, but if the commandos didn't find any hostages, one would think that they'd mention it in their reports about the alleged raid. Something is fishy here, but it may simply be an overly-optimistic PR campaign by the involved governments, trying to repeat the success of Columbia/US against FARC a few months back. Sadly, if it turns out there are inaccuracies here, it may have backlash PR repercussions against counter-terror campaigns.

The second interesting piece comes from Somalia: a Ukrainian ship full of Russian tanks was hijacked for a $20 million ransom off the coast of Eastern Africa. The US and Russians both sent ships, and have surrounded the ship. In short, it looks like the standoff is close to being over--shots have been heard on the ship, and three of the pirates are dead. This shows a clear breakdown of leadership on the vessel--some pirates are probably trying to hedge their bets and get out now, while others want to play brinksmanship. The fighting means that pressure is mounting for the pirates, and that they are unlikely to hold together.

But internationally, it shows the Russian and American navies working together in the interest of arms control--something that will go a long way towards healing the rifts from the Georgian invasion. Russia's PR game continues with this latest deployment of ships, and people are likely to calm down about Russia in the future if they continue such cooperative measures.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Syria's Trouble with Liberalization

Syria's recent warming up to the West--including joining the Mediterranean Union, working on serious peace talks with Israel, establishing diplomatic ties with Lebanon and agreeing to demarcated borders, and visiting Europe to talk about security problems in the Middle East--has started to show evidence of serious consequences.

The most recent is a bombing in Damascus that killed 17--a very rare event in Syria, which keeps control with ubiquitous security and sometimes-brutal repression.

But Syria doesn't have control over the entire desert to the east of Damascus, where a large number of Sunni extremists sit around steaming about Syria's relationship with Shiite Iran. But these Sunni extremists also happen to really like the Sunni extremists in the north of Lebanon that benefited from Syrian control, and both groups are now upset that the Syrians are supporting the elected Lebanese government.

But this comes with a drift away from Iran and a lowering of support for Shiite Hezbollah. Normally, I would suspect the Sunni extremists to write such a policy off as a bit of a wash, realizing that the Syrians are breaking with the Shiites much more than anyone else. The Sunni militants' biggest beef is probably that the Syrians have tightened security in their Iraqi border, which would prevent such militants from pushing manpower and weapons into the fight.

But there are other culprits. Syria has a lot of powerful security forces that are intense rivals of each other, and may be locked in a power struggle. They were responsible for a number of coups during the Cold War, but there is some evidence that Assad's decision to liberalize may be causing one coalition of security groups to flare up and the other to try to protect the current government.

The best example of this kind of circumstantial evidence is the bombing of a prominent Hezbollah leader in Damascus back in February. While Hezbollah and Iran were quick to blame Israel (for which I'm sure the Mossad is quite flattered), it's unlikely Israeli security has the kind of operational freedom in Damascus to get away with such an assassination. The bomb was entirely possibly placed by a pro-Western faction of the Syrian security forces, possibly in hopes of causing strains in the Syria-Hezbollah relationship. This could be the work of anti-West security forces trying and failing to hit someone in specific.

The evidence for this bomb being the doing of Sunni militants is that in the last few weeks, Syria has put a bunch of troops along the Lebanese border--this looked like it was primed to go back on its promises to Lebanon earlier, but the Syrians had voiced no reason why they might. In retrospect, it looks like they were trying to prevent northern Sunni militants from flooding in and trying to conduct operations in Syria. Their success was possibly not complete.

Either way, this kind of bombing is likely to worry Syrian civilians, but probably won't cause them to take an appeasement route with respect to extremists and terrorists. Syria has the will and the capability to deal with these guys, and simply needs to execute another crackdown. If it can manage to control its borders with Iraq and Lebanon, then it can even try a systematic in-house cleaning operation--though getting rid of militants forever is unlikely to happen.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Iran's Revisionist Signalling

Most realist theories of war agree that states that are satisfied or otherwise bought-into the international system are unlikely to start conflict or take extreme risks--where those that are unsatisfied are likely to take risks to change the world order. When we look at rising or powerful countries with respect to our security, we ask: are they revisionist? If the answer is clearly no, we get countries like the UK, France, Japan--not a threat, despite being very powerful. With countries like China, Russia, there is serious debate over their love of the status quo.

Great Powers create the international order--the UK, France, Britain, Russia, and China are the 5 permanent members of the security council. The WTO, WHO, the IAEA (keep this one in mind) and dozens of other international organizations were made either by the US or by the EU with US support.

No Great Power (or rising Great Power) has decided that it is no longer a status-quo power since the end of the Cold War. Iran is certainly not a Great Power, but it is a rather powerful regional power, and has spent a great deal of time and effort trying to spread its influence to Iraq, win a power struggle in Lebanon, and boot Israel from the map. In the last few years, the Great Powers have used a combination of coercive and rewarding diplomacy (sticks and carrots) to try and turn Iran to toe the status quo line.

Today, Ahmadinejad has shown that he's not interested. He claimed that the entire global system is "unjust," which is a bad sign--it means he is not terribly interested in trying to use the global system to address his grievances.

His grievances, by brief summary of his speech:
1) The US is "bullying" governments in Iraq and Lebanon into being pro-western, because that would definitely not otherwise be possible.
2) Israel is not yet wiped off the map.
3) The IAEA is still pressuring Iran.
4) The IAEA is not pressuring the US/France/Britain/China/Russia.

The IAEA won't pressure the Great Powers to disarm--it is a construct of the Great Powers. For the same reasons, it won't let up on Iran. Israel is not going away. And whatever bullying the US is now doing that ticks Iran off, it isn't going to stop.

Earlier murmurings that the Iranians might be reaching a deal on Iraq and the nuclear issue seem to have been overly-optimistic. It looks like Iran is taking a stance that dooms it to confrontation.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tracking Iraq's Progress

So a few things are going on (or, rather auspiciously, not going on) in Iraq that are worth mentioning.

Mention the first: Elections are coming! Parliament has given the thumbs-up to a key election law which will bring a re-shuffling of parliament and local leaders. If all goes to plan, the Kurds and Sunnis will have higher representation and slightly more autonomy, which should cool some serious worries by Sunnis and Kurds about Shiite domination. The one downside is that little is likely to get done if elections become proportional.

Mention the second: Anbar is being handed over slightly more quietly than expected. While there are some ethnic tensions and apparent abuse by Shiite police/military upon the Awakening Councils (likely in an effort to try to assert central government authority in the region), the Awakening Councils exist precisely to buy into the national system. They are likely to try to use the system itself to state their grievances, and compromise with the central government as the handover process becomes more complete.

Mention the third: Casualty rates continue to drop. Below, I've made some graphs from icasualties.org data of casualties since the start of the Surge:

In the first, we see that civilian monthly deaths are down by over an order of magnitude since the beginning of the surge, and are continuing to decline despite the fact that the Surge ended in July and most of the Surge troops went home. This is an early indication that the rate of decrease in violence is now relatively independent of numbers of American troops. This could be for a number of reasons: increased effectiveness of the Iraqi army/police (probably a big reason, in reality), political reconciliation and increased economic growth, increased civil services (like trash collection and water delivery), and a "positive spiral" of security (where now-secure people stop funding militant groups that are promising local security, thus weakening the very same militant groups that are decreasing security for others). But it's a very good sign, seeing as the Iraqis are kicking us out by 2011--we should well be able to go home and leave a very stable and prosperous Iraq; and with the election laws in place, it will even be a functional (if somewhat flawed) democracy. This would constitute a win (if an expensive one) by almost any standards.

This second graph only includes coalition casualties to make them easier to see. Deaths and wounds are both down dramatically, but wounds are decreasing much faster than deaths--in fact, in September (so far, I suppose) there have only been 40 wounds but 20 deaths, meaning that every other soldier wounded also died. In February 2007, it was only 85 out of 520, less than 1/5 of all wounded. This indicates a few things:

1) Violence is dropping faster than it appears from the most obvious metric, which is coalition deaths.
2) Attacks on Coalition troops are fewer, but more deadly, which is likely due to the fact that Coalition troops are fighting Al-Qaeda militants in higher and higher proportion--their attacks are likely more targeted and deadly than a quick squabble with sectarian militants.

I need to look more into the actual development of the Iraqi Army to be sure about the stability or this security progress, but I'll get to that later.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Al Qaeda's "Thank You" to Pakistan

In an effort to express their gratitude for the new Pakistani government's so-far implicit condoning of their operations, Al Qaeda recently bombed a Marriott hotel in Islamabad where the Pakistani president was supposed to be hosting (but had changed venues at the last minute).

The attack was either an effort to take out the Pakistani leadership and try to crumble the government, or to simply send a message--we liked our deal where you left us alone. Now Americans are coming and shooting us. If you don't stop this, we'll keep bombing you.

The Pakistanis are in deep debate. Nobody's questioning that they should keep Americans out of Pakistan. But with these bombings and implicit demands for it, pushing back at the Americans will look like pretty bold appeasement. Doing nothing will bring more attacks. The Pakistani executive has to stand up to the Americans in some way, or else he will look weak. Pakistan is in a difficult political position.

But most of Pakistan's troops are still outside of its Northwest Frontier regions, and only Allah knows why. With bombing attacks within Pakistan increasing by the week, the greatest crisis the Pakistanis face is whether or not they can get control of their own territory--territory that they have claims of sovereignty over. But sovereignty becomes weak when a government does not police or administer a territory at all (such measures are used when claiming islands or other disputed areas); Pakistan may complain, but their international lawyers should be warning them that they need to get troops into the northwest, lest a lame-duck president try to settle the score with Al Qaeda once and for all.

Monday, September 15, 2008

What the Heck is the Bush Doctrine?

Charlie Gibson certainly thinks he knows, and he certainly thinks it's pretty clear. In a recent interview, he ripped into her for not knowing quite what he meant. The left, by golly, is quite relieved: with Obama's poll numbers currently low enough to lose him the presidency, Democrats are rejoicing that they've got a new weakness to pick on.

Nonetheless, after seeing the interview, watching Charlie Gibson very confidently enunciated the finer details of the Bush Doctrine (that it was "anticipatory self-defense"). I listened, and thought, "wait, really?" I know a thing or two about the Bush Doctrine, and I wasn't entirely sure I agreed with Mr. Gibson. But surely, he'd done his research, and sometimes even I am wrong. Now, I do expect the Vice President of the United States to know a bit more about foreign policy than, lo, even I do.

But then I was sent an article written by the guy that first used the term. Mr. Krauthammer gave vindication to my intuition--despite Gibson's arrogance in being smarter than Palin, he was wrong for two reasons. Reason the first is that there are four separate meanings of the Bush doctrine from four different time periods, all of which have been called the "Bush Doctrine" in literature. These are:

1) Pre-9/11 unilateralism, including withdrawing from treaties;
2) Post-9/11 "if you harbor terrorists we will consider you hostile"-ism;
3) March 2002 pre-emptive defense-ism (what Gibson cited);
4) Later "aggressively spread Democracy through the world"-ism.

The last one is the one most cited and most encompassing of all of Bush's doctrinal statements. It's no wonder Governor Palin was confused when Mr. Gibson threw the phrase out there and expected her to pick up exactly what it meant. It's not quite an excuse for the level of Palin's fumbling during the foreign policy section of that particular interview, but (like most things in politics), this is nothing as it seems. And, like most things in politics, the media has again taken the position of impatient sage, and has told you and the Governor what to think.

In truth, all this reveals about the McCain ticket is its failure to market correctly. No, of course Palin is not an expert in foreign policy. No, she hasn't met with world leaders (which Gibson asked about). Why the heck would she? She's a governor, not a diplomat. Unlike Mr.'s McCain, Obama, and Biden, she has not been custom-tailoring her position as governor as a springboard, and so doesn't yet know much about foreign policy. Will she learn? Sure; Governor Clinton did, Governor Carter did (although his foreign policy was admittedly quite naive), Governor Reagan did. And for all the clamoring about John McCain's imminent departure from the earthly world, she doesn't have to be ready to fight the war-on-terror on day one, without any mentoring.

Mr. Obama himself, while running against Clinton, said that "experience is only a proxy for judgment." Those without experience will be wild cards in their decision-making. But for all their experience in foreign policy, Mr.'s Obama, Biden, and McCain lack any executive experience whatsoever. Further, have the foreign policy experiences of Mr.'s Obama and Biden culminated in proof of sound foreign policy judgment and good understanding of how to grace America's diplomatic and military might upon the world stage? More about that, later.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

More Russian Public Relations

Russia is perhaps starting to worry about the backlash of its actions in Georgia--whether the Russians thought them entirely justified or not, they are realising there is little they can do to convince the West of their point of view. Despite the resignation of the hard-line nationalists to trying to create a futile "Eurasian anti-American Alliance," which would include questionable states like Iran, the moderates seem to be taking a more reasonable point of view, and trying to clean up Russia's image. [nb: The "Eurasian Alliance" sounds silly, but there are a few signs: Russia is sending bombers and diplomats to Bolivia, Venezuela, and Cuba, possibly looking for an alliance, as Bolivia cozies with Iran, and both Bolivia and Venezuela expel US ambassadors. The new way to be cool in third-world Socialism is to "stand up" to the United States.]

Anyway, the Russians are at least trying to look like they're playing nice with the West. This might be to prevent an impassioned speech at NATO in December that might give the Ukraine its membership, or to prevent a staunchly anti-Russian John McCain from riding a wave of American anti-Russian sentiment. Either way:

Russian forces are starting to leave "Georgia proper" a few days before their agreed pull-out date, which is a sign by the Kremlin that they're willing to not drag their feet on their agreements.

In addition, Putin has openly predicted that US and Russian relations will improve, which is in part a self-fulfilling prophecy; if a country openly declares that it intends to have a good relationship with another, then it is easier to have such a relationship. It is Putin's way of saying, "don't worry, we're not planning for a Cold War here." Whether he's being honest or not is a whole other story, but it's at least a sign that the Kremlin is sensitive to Western pressure, and not immune to all forms of complaint. This may be a minor comfort to some, but it's better than the alternative.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Russia's PR Game

The South Ossetians are apparently rather gung-ho about this Russia thing; and for good reason. North Ossetia is in Russia, and many South Ossetians already have Russian passports and speak Russian. They'd love to be reunited with their cultural brethren.

But South Ossetia's President Kokoity jumped the gun on annexation, and said that his country would probably skip independence and go straight for Russian annexation (ala Texas). Now, this is a bit iffy--it would scare the heck out of the West, and convince a lot of skeptics that the Russians instigated the Georgian/Ossetian conflict purely out of a desire to annex Georgian territory.

Putin is smarter than to let Kokoity get away with calling for annexation quite yet (especially when being a puppet satellite with Russian troops is just as good! [ala Poland]). Despite not being a representative for foreign policy in the Russian state, Putin handed Kokoity a speedy verbal slap-down, saying such annexation was not going to happen. It looks like the Russians are now trying to ease the minds of their European brethren--the timing is so quick and the vocabulary so strong that it could have been a planned PR stunt (though this is unlikely).

It also brings light to the question that the Russians were merely being opportunists over the Georgia conflict, rather than conspirators. But their very slow pullout, occupation of breakaway provinces, recognition of independence, and complicity in Ossetian pillaging/killing of Georgians leaves still very little doubt over the opportunism being practiced by the Russians now. But in typical Putin fashion, the PR machine is brilliant.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Update on Kim

First things first: I was wrong about Kim having no sons; he has three (one with his estranged wife, two with a now-dead mistress).

A few readers asked questions about succession--was anyone in line to take the mantle?

It seems Kim's oldest son fell out of favor when he was caught with a fake passport in Japan in 2001, and some rumors have flown around that his second son is being groomed for the position. But they have not made public appearances with their father (unlike Kim Jong Il with his father in the late 1980's), and have remained largely in the background. At this point, with Kim probably in the hospital recovering from a stroke, North Korea's party elite may have already chosen a leader to succeed Kim when he dies.

Professors on the subject debate some between a factional internal struggle for power, and a collective ruling effort on the part of the military (which could well be one very slow and messy factional struggle for power). They agree that Kim's sons are unlikely to take the lead themselves, but may remain as a sort of British/Chinese/Japanese symbolic monarchy for the purposes of morale and legitimacy to the military rulers.

But really, little is known. Most analysts try to decipher what they can based on short clips of public footage--who is standing closest to Kim, who is talking to him, etc. South Korean intelligence agencies don't predict an imminent collapse, but the South Korean executive branch held an emergency meeting to discuss the possibility of refugees.

The worst-case scenario I could imagine is the following: the North Korean military is the fifth-largest in the world, and is very loyal to Kim. If Kim has failed to hedge their loyalty to a second person, then military regulars may default their loyalty to elite generals. If there is disagreement over the particular elite general that should take the helm, a warlord-style civil war is not impossible, and would likely lead to North Korean collapse, massive refugee flows, and Chinese occupation. The best-case scenario is probably that a reformist or realpolitik ruler is able to slide into power quite easily--someone more stable and rational than Kim would mean relaxed relations with the US, China, and South Korea, and potentially improved trade relations that could modernize the country.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Kim is MIA

Kim Jong Il is missing in action at the moment. When not sporting his stunna shades and cracking jokes with the upper echelons of the army (see picture), Kim is often seen at parades thrown for him and/or North Korea. In fact, he never misses them. But for North Korea's 60th Anniversary--the biggest public show of military hardware in the country's history--he was a no-show.

Kim apparently has heart disease and diabetes, so at 66, this isn't terribly surprising. But he might be very sick, and maybe dead. Some think he's been dead since 2003, and body-doubles have been meeting with the heads of state of Russia, Korea, and China.

Either he or his replacement body-double (who, if he is meeting with heads of state, is functionally just as good as Kim himself) is in serious health trouble, and there aren't enough body doubles on hand to even make an appearance at the biggest military parade North Korea has ever thrown--something's wrong.

Now, it's one thing for heads of state to get old and die. Fidel Castro brilliantly left the mantle to his brother before anyone could object. Kim Jong Il took over (though not officially) for his father, Kim Il Sung, after the latter died. Despite this, mass suicides were still performed out of genuine grief for the leader whose entire legitimacy was based on his cult of personality.

Kim has no children, no brother, and no obvious successor. If he really is gone, and the State cannot continue to pretend that he's not, they may have a leadership crisis. Besides the mass suicides that would arise from his death, the state will have legitimacy issues to deal with. Nobody's sure how well the North Korean's are brainwashed, and whether they'll just start drinking a new guy's kool-aid right away.

Or maybe, with the Kims gone, a foreign-educated reformer might take the mantle and start changing things for the better. But don't get your hopes up.

Either way, right now China and South Korea are probably a bit worried--an unstable North Korea might mean refugee problems into highly populated areas of northeast China and northern South Korea. If Kim is dead, expect a tensing of military lines along the North Korean borders, but also an offer of aid (especially if the new leader is not so obsessed with nuclear brinksmanship).

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Sovereignty Problem

Sarkozy visited Russia today and "negotiated" Russians out of Georgia (at least, all of Georgia but the breakaway provinces) by mid-October. In addition, the EU and Russia largely agreed that this was somehow America's fault, and they're not quite sure how, but that it makes sense at this point to blame the United States, hug, have some tea, and move on with their lives.

Why the Russians need well over a month to move troops out when it only took them a few hours to hurl them on in is beyond me. The Georgian state didn't collapse and the Georgian army didn't dissolve--I'm sure the Georgians wouldn't mind taking care of it at this point.

But more to the point, we ask: What about sovereignty? Why did Sarkozy walk out with an "okay, fine, mid-October," and even then! only after an agreement to pull out of "non-breakaway" Georgia--Russian troops will remain in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which the EU recognizes as Georgian territory, to continue the slow (but now easy) process of annexation?

Well, sovereignty has been out the window for a long time. I know you're all thinking this is George Bush's fault, after the invasion of Iraq. But it started long, long before that.

Afghanistan isn't it, either--if a state is assisting a group in its borders to attack another country, it violates that other country's sovereignty first, even if the assailants are not on the official payroll. That one was pretty open-and-shut.

I'm speaking more to operations that we tend to want to look back on with nostalgia: the Humanitarian 90's. US or NATO or UN incursions into places like Ethiopia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda (sortof...), etc, all had slowly eroding effects on sovereignty. They pressed on without asking much the question of whether sovereignty was an issue at all.

There were some arguments for this. The best was that our enlightened western liberal ideas taught us that sovereignty lay in the hands of the people; if a government was slaughtering its own people, then it has abandoned its mantle of "sovereign," and should be taken down on behalf of the people. But what if a democratic majority decides to genocide a small minority? The sovereignty argument falls apart, and we must simply say that the moral good of saving lives overrules sovereignty.

Pre-1960 (convention on genocide), sovereignty was a hard-and-fast rule: you didn't violate it unless your target had done so to you or someone else. But when you think of some moral goods that overrule sovereignty, you can use those moral goods to justify a lot of stuff--or, when the precedent is out, you can think of other moral goods: stopping WMD proliferation, for example, or rooting out drug cartels. Just how morally good does something have to be for sovereignty to be violated? It's largely up to statesmen, and the whim of the Great Powers in the international order. And then, you're just back to balance-of-power politics, with rules custom-tailored to make the Great Powers' lives easier.

This was the justification George Bush used in Iraq--Saddam Hussein voided Iraqi sovereignty by massacring/terrorising his own people, and having a WMD program. Many were quite happy with that argument (assuming it was more justifiably factual, at the time). Russia used this argument, too--the Georgians were indeed bombing South Ossetians, and even people with Russian passports. Was that enough to violate Georgia's sovereignty? In the old days of the Cold War, the the West would have been on an all-out blitz to stop this. Now, we shake our heads and sigh. We know that sovereignty isn't a dead-man switch anymore, because we've spent decades eroding it. And now, it's biting us in the rear.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Why Darfur Remains Untouched

Lots of people in the university world like to protest about Darfur and "raise awareness;" it's a popular means for picking up women at cocktail parties. Sadly for those taking the issue seriously, I think their efforts are futile. Awareness is already pretty high; raising it more is not going to do much to pressure Western statesment into acting. It is ultimately logistical problems are keeping anyone from doing anything. It's harder than it looks.

Any intervention into Somalia would be met hostilely. Where would one land, unless one was willing to fly in shooting? The UN has serious problems with actually killing people in peacekeeping missions, and the Darfur problem would be militarily untenable for them unless they made a deal with the Sudanese government (which the Sudanese government is uninterested in).

While in my Great Power Military Interventions class today, Professor Barry Posen brought up a few more interesting points about Darfur that I had not considered. After some thinking, I realised the following, that make Darfur largely doomed for the near future:

1) Only three countries in the world have global lift. These are France, Britain, and the US. The US outstretches the other two by far, but nobody besides these three countries can actually pick an arbitrary location on the map and sustain a conflict there. The EU is purchasing C-17's (probably about 200 in 10 years), which is great; they will soon be able to supply their own foreign peacekeeping missions. But for the past 15 years, all eyes have turned to the US, UK, and France for ever-critical logistics in these affairs, giving the three serious veto power in any kind of global foreign mission.

2) The US has all the airlift. France and the UK only have boats--and each country only has about as much sealift as the US Marine Corps. A mission without the US would mean absolutely zero rapid response, emergency supply, etc--making it unbearably risky for most European states.

3) The US is tied down. Iraq/Afghanistan obviously have US supply vessels pretty tied up, and the US can't afford to promise dozens of such vessels for a long, difficult mission in Africa.

4) The US is politically insular. After the Iraq debacle, both international and domestic pressure flared, and any international action by the US is likely to be laughed at by policymakers that have any hopes of a pension.

5) Darfur is geographically nasty. Out west, past Khartoum and other large cities in the Sudan and away from arifields, the jungles of Darfur are highly reminiscent of Vietnam--making military commanders wince at the idea of plunging back into anti-insurgent warfare in a climate they don't yet know how to handle.

So the Darfur mess is likely to stay a mess for some time. As much as we feel good by screaming "do something!" and blaming current statesmen for inaction, neither incoming presidential candidate is going to have a magic bullet to easily and cheaply go "fix" Darfur, and wacky African dictators are likely to get away with genocide for some time to come.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

That Works, Too

The US attacked the Taliban in Pakistan "for the first time" today, by sending in commandoes with a helicopter. This probably isn't the first time the US has gone into Pakistan, but the first time they have done so without disguise or cover-up.

The village they attacked was less than a mile from the Afghani border, and a Taliban "stronghold;" a clear sign that the Taliban have such free reign in Pakistan that they mostly just camp out on the other side of the border and call the Americans' mothers names.

This was not a NATO operation, which is important: NATO can easily claim no knowledge of the incident, while the US can continue to ride on its bad reputation and say "we don't care," should anyone (the Pakistanis in particular) decide to complain. While NATO must keep a good reputation, the US doesn't have one to uphold at this point.

It's also a sign that the US is not taking my advice (in gathering the Afghanis and Indians into a coalition to threaten to invade) and just making it clear that it can enter and leave Pakistan as it pleases. The weak and squabbling Pakistani government is little-equipped to do much about it unless it does want a full-scale invasion; its political will at the moment is too weakened by domestic trouble.

Then again, given that it's less than a mile from the border, it could actually be an honest mistake.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Anbar Handed Over

The US handed over Anbar province today, with great pomp and circumstance, in hopes of parading the success of the Sunni Awakening Councils, the Surge, and overall US efforts over the past three years. This is the 11th of 18 provinces, and was once the bloodiest.

While it is a triumphant sign of progress, worry remains in the next few months. The Sunni Councils may be used to their autonomy, and may be averse to being ruled by a Shiite-dominated central government. An influx of mostly-Shiite Iraqi troops may cause sectarian tensions in the region, that would derail the mopping up of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Elections are coming in October, and Sunnis are quite unlikely to make the same mistake as in 2004 when they boycotted the election. But the elections will bring a dramatic change to the Iraqi parliament--total Shiite domination will end if the election goes as planned. If Shiites get too worried about this, violence may flare beforehand, and Al-Qaeda is sure to be planning attacks for the weeks before and day of the election. The next six weeks will be pivotal.