And, Another Miracle

Posted March 30, 2007 on 4:03 pm | In the category Iraq, Middle East, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

Followng the news that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has cancelled out of his scheduled April state dinner with President Bush, we read now that King Abdullah of Jordan – another old  friend of the United States  has decided he cannot possibly make a planned trip to Washington – and a state dinner – in September.

It seems the chicken-hawks have come home to roost. Bush’s Iraq adventure is continuing to offend old friends while creating new enemies.

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Bush’s Newest Miracle

Posted March 29, 2007 on 4:41 pm | In the category Iraq, Middle East, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

Having changed major parts of the constitution into near-meaningless paragraphs, turned the U.S. military into a shadow of its former self, reduced the Iraqi population in Iraq by an estimated 20 percent, turned a budget surplus into a record-breaking deficit, Bush had at least one more miracle left in his bag of tricks.

In 2000, the Washington Times published a glowing report on the strength of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S.  It began:

“For more than 60 years, Saudi Arabia and the United States have enjoyed a strong relationship based upon mutual respect and common interests….
This special relationship dates to the early 1900s, when King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al-Saud, the founder of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, was impressed by President Woodrow Wilson’s call for the self-determination of nations. Over time, the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States has reflected President Wilson’s ideals of independence, justice and peace.”

The strong relationship between the Saudi royal family and the Bush family has been well documented and the mutuality of the U.S. Saudi relationship has been clear.  The Saudis have kept the oil coming, maintained a moderate stance in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, and allowed – until recently – large U.S. military bases on their soil. In return the U.S. has provided for the defense of Saudi Arabia, assisted in the development of their oil fields and, perhaps most important, provided a huge market thirsty for Saudi oil. The friendship endured in spite of the extreme fundamentalism of the Saudi brand of Islam and the fact that the majority of the 9/11 attackers were Saudi born and bred.

The second President Bush has apparently destroyed a 65-year-old relationship in just the four years from 2003 to the present. A miracle. Who would have thought that it could be done and would be done by a Bush.  Yesterday at the meeting of the Arab League, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia said that the U.S. occupation in Iraq was “illegal” and called for the end of the international boycott of the Palestinian government, Earlier this year, the Saudis helped negotiate agreement between the two major Palestinian factions and met with the President of Iran; two actions apparently designed to announce their independence from American hegemony.

So our relationship with Saudi Arabia is moving toward becoming one more casualty of the Bush Fiasco.  Ironically, the Bush foreign policy, pushed so hard by neocon supporters of Israel, could add to the threat to Israel – a stronger Iran, a more unified Arab world, a weakened America, a less supportive Western Europe. It is also apparently increasing the power of al Queda by increasing hatred of America in the Arab world, and providing a recruiting and training ground for jihadists.

Since blood is thicker than patriotism, old man Bush has kept his silence but he must wonder how the hell he could have sired this guy.

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Once again, Quebec goes to the polls

Posted March 25, 2007 on 2:50 pm | In the category Canada, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

On Monday, Quebeckers once again have the opportunity to shake up the rest of Canada (ROC) by going to the polls. It seems very unlikely that the newly-elected government will be the same as the current one, that is run by a federalist Liberal party with a majority under the current premier Jean Charést. For the first time in 125 years, it seems inevitable that there will be a minority government in Quebec, as the traditional two-party federalist-separatist (Liberal-Parti Quebecois) voting pattern has been broken by the rise of a third party, Action Democratique du Quebec, under their young leader, conservative populist Mario Dumont. There seems to be general agreement that he has run the best campaign of the three party leaders, resulting in polls showing a virtual three way tie in popular votes and an absolutely unpredictable distribution of party numbers in parliament under the winner take all riding system.

But political junkies strongly suspect that M. Dumont’s spectacular rise in popularity and his potential role as kingmaker (if not king) on Tuesday may be mainly due to dissatisfaction with the other two leaders and their parties. In particular, Andre Boisclair, the young erratic leader of the Parti Quebecois, has managed to convince even many separatists to at least park their votes with Mario Dumont, who, unlike M. Boisclair, has pledged not to hold a referendum on separatism, which many separatists don’t want at this point, convinced they would once again lose. Dumont has also vowed not to go onto a coalition with the Parti Quebecois. Many separatists also look with favour on that, hoping that a leader of the Parti Quebecois may soon arrive who reminds them a lot more of party-founder René Levesque than does error-prone M. Boisclair. So it seems that the most likely result of Monday’s election will involve some kind of coalition brokered by Dumont and Charest, with a probable Liberal premier of a minority government and the Action Democratique holding the balance of power.

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The Germans are coming, the Chinese are coming!

Posted March 22, 2007 on 9:22 pm | In the category Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

The demographics of Siberia are complex. Once the domain of nomadic tribes, gigantic Siberia came under Russian control in its march east at about the same time as the North American west became part of the British or US domain. Invading armies from France and Germany found out with horrible consequences that they couldn’t even conquer and occupy European Russia as far west as Moscow, never mind the overwhelming spaces of Asian Russia, where whole armies got swallowed up in the First World War. During the Stalinist period, Siberia became synonomous with the land of the Gulags, slave-worker camps whose domain actually extended far to the east of what the Russians call Siberia into the Russian Far East and maritime provinces. There the so-called (in English), 3-400 Siberian tigers (Amur tigers in Russian and German) make their last stand, and may actually prove to be the last great cats (and they are the largest anywhere) to survive in Asia. 10% of them still inhabit extreme northern China (with a few in North Korea), underlining the closeness of the two emerging (again) superpowers Russia and China.
If you are very lucky you may see tigers on either side of that border, but you will see very few Chinese in Russia and fewer Russians in China save along the border cities on the Amur river where the Russian markets are serviced by Chinese coming across for the day to sell Chinese goods or perhaps even to stay (in isolation) for some months or even years with no intention of remaining in Russia permanently. Meanwhile Siberia and the Russian Far East are losing population dramatically, as their Russian populations attempt to escape the poverty and unemployment that has overwhelmed the remote area since the fall of the Soviet Union, by moving to the big cities of the west. The paranoid Russian nightmare is that the Chinese will spill over into the emptiness of eastern Russia and attempt to recolonize areas of Russia that once in fact had Chinese populations.
In Siberia there are signs of this happening, but the Chinese are being preceded by a group whose presence noone could have predicted five years ago. 2.5 million so-called Russlanddeutsche (Russian-Germans), who had been living in European Russia for centuries before being expelled to Siberia and Kazakhstan during World War Two, took advantage of the strange German blood-based citizenship laws to return to Germany after 1990. Integration has been anything but easy for them as most had forgotten how to speak German and had become in many cultural ways competely Russified or Kazakhified. A few thousand have now returned to what has become booming Siberia, (or indeed decided never to leave for Germany despite valid papers) to take advantage of plentiful work opportunities in the oil and gas fields of Siberia without which western Europe would be in for very cold winters. The Russian government contributes 100000 Rubels (3000 Euros), travel costs and free luggage transport to lure them back to a place their former Russan neighbours have abandoned. The countryside north of Novosibirsk may not be the equal of Fort MacMurray, Alberta, where the largest oil fields outside of Saudi-Arabia are now coming into full swing and housing costs rival those of Manhattan, but housing developments are springing up in Siberia built by Germans for Germans. According to an article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the housing developer of one such settlement did not understand the question when asked whether the Russians resented the Germans, given the war and all that, and then pointed out that these Germans had Russian (and German) passports, spoke Russian and were appreciated in any case by the Russians for their hard work. Down the road were settlements for Chinese immigrants, he went on, who the Russians really don’t like, and whose spokesmen needed translators to deal with the Russian authorities. The future of Siberia could be interesting.

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Shock and Awe or Humiliation and Shame?

Posted March 22, 2007 on 5:49 pm | In the category Human Rights, Iraq, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

Until recently, there has been little focus on the costs to the citizens of Iraq of Bush’s War. The American mainstream press has largely chosen to look at the Iraq war through the prism of U.S. politics – that is, who voted for it and who did not; who will vote for withdrawal of U.S. troops and who will not; how can funding be stopped without those who vote for it being accused of “not supporting the troops”; what percent of the American people support the war; when will the Iraqis clean up the mess we produced? Etc. ad nauseum. It is, for them, mostly all about America.

What are the trade-offs for the Iraqis? The estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths range from a low of 60,000 to as high as ten times that number. Estimates of Iraqi refugees are in the 2-3 million range – most internal as the various religious sects band together in limited geographic areas, but over a million in Jordan, Syria and Iran. The Kurdish region of Iraq – the most developed, stable and modern – now has some 100,000 refugees from the rest of Iraq with nowhere to put them and minimal humanitarian aid from the U.S. The fact that the U.S. has accepted only a few hundred Iraqi refugees is a disgraceful indictment of the American government that created this horror show. A previously secular society with the highest literacy rate in the region, and equal rights for women is becoming an Islamic fundamentalist state with all that that will mean for whoever is left living there.

In return for this “investment” the Iraqi people are rid of Saddam Hussein, one of the nastiest dictators of the past thirty years. But now having determined that getting rid of Saddam was a good thing, the Iraqi people are asking themselves whether it has been worth the costs. Their answer is “no”. The euphoria of U.S. troops marching into Baghdad has been replaced with the reality of the mind-numbing incompetence of the U.S. in creating chaos with no way out – for the U.S. or for the Iraqi people.

A powerful description of what we have done to those Iraqi people who have been our allies, appears in this week’s New Yorker, in George Packer’s article, Betrayed, in which he comments that:

“The arc from hope to betrayal that traverses the Iraq war is nowhere more vivid than in the lives of these Iraqis [i.e. Iraqis who worked for the U.S. forces as interpreters, etc.]. America’s failure to understand, trust, and protect its closest friends in Iraq is a small drama that contains the larger history of defeat.”

It is tempting to quote Packer’s piece extensively, but it needs to be read in its entirety to capture the full dimension of our shame and guilt in this political and human disaster. One small part of the article discusses the likelihood or possibilities of large numbers of the millions of Iraqi refugees being welcomed into the U.S. – that is, the country that turned them into refugees. We are reminded of what President Gerald Ford once said about his decision to admit a hundred and thirty thousand Vietnamese after the fall of Saigon: “To do less would have added moral shame to humiliation.” The United States has welcomed between 200 and 300 Iraqis to date.

According to Packer, Richard Armitage, former Deputy Secretary of State under Colin Powell, and a longtime State Department professional, when asked about the likelihood of the U.S. doing much more, commented that:

“I guarantee you no one’s thinking about it now, because it’s so fatalistic and you’d be considered sort of a traitor to the President’s policy,” he said. “I don’t see us taking them in this time, because, notwithstanding what we may owe people, you’re not going to bring in large numbers of Arabs to the United States, given the fact that for the last six years the President has scared the pants off the American public with fears of Islamic terrorism.”

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The Surge: Good Money After Bad

Posted March 20, 2007 on 7:13 pm | In the category Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

The press and politicians are currently focused on the tactic of Bush’s “surge” of 21,000 added troops into Iraq while the overall situation is worse than most of the press admits or even considers. Typical is today’s Boston Globe op ed by a veteran of the Iraq conflict and now law school student at Harvard who continues the myth of the importance of giving the surge a chance to succeed while ignoring the larger, more significant consequences of the war.

Certainly even Bush must realize that he has committed the country to an enormous folly; ergo the re-definition of victory has become making Iraq’s capital city nearly as safe as it used to be before the Fiasco. Weapons of mass destruction disappeared as a rationale weeks after Shock and Awe; a true democracy in Iraq is now recognized to be fantasy; peace in the Middle East as a result is simply nutty, as is the concept of Iraq as a grateful nation.

A list of current and emerging consequences of Bush’s Fiasco is depressing:

• Destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure
• Millions of Iraqi refugees, both within Iraq and in neighboring countries;
• Over 3000 American lives; between 65,000 and 600,000 Iraqi lives lost
• Thousands of Americans seriously wounded
• A U.S. military pushed beyond its limits and no longer capable of responding to additional conflicts that could arise
• Provision of a training ground for terrorists
• Provision of a recruitment program for Jihadists
• Billions of U.S. dollars spent and not available for social programs such as health insurance, education, etc.
• Contribution to a budget deficit that will punish the young and the unborn
• Huge future need to support wounded and mentally-damaged veterans
• Inability to focus on other issues properly – e.g. Afghanistan, Russia, Africa
• Enormous amounts of international ill will

But perhaps the most significant consequence is the increased instability in the region. The Bush policy has made Iran a stronger force in the region, has reduced Iraq’s independence from Shiite domination, has changed a secular country into a fundamentalist country, and has produced a situation in which neighboring countries with Sunni populations (e.g. Saudi Arabia) will inevitably become involved with supporting Iraqi Sunnis with finances and weapons.

A poll of Iraqis taken this week indicates that a large majority believes their country was better off under Saddam than after the U.S. invasion. And there is no evidence that Bush has a clue on how to end it without it being a total disaster for U.S. foreign policy and the Iraqi people.

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Confessions of a Tortured Terrorist: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

Posted March 20, 2007 on 5:27 pm | In the category Human Rights, Public Diplomacy, Terrorism | by Jeff

There has been a curious lack of hurrahs for the confession extracted from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed after four years in captivity. While there is no doubt of his ties to al Quada  his confession is tainted by the knowledge that he has spent at least some of those four years being tortured and that the in the end he has confessed to almost everything that has been done to the U.S. by terrorists in the last fifteen years.

This is not to suggest his innocence – rather it is to recognize that the use of torture has reduced the credibility of almost any results coming out of the process. In today’s online Slate Magazine, Anne Applebaum cites major European newspapers’ skepticism over the confessions and indeed, the lack of exultation in the U.S. press is likely due to similar concerns. The use of torture appeals mostly to thugs and bullies who recognize power but not its limits. And, in the case of the current clowns screwing around with America’s reputation, they fail also to recognize the consequences of ignoring basic legal and human rights. In a sense everything the administration is doing in its war on terrorism can be viewed partially through the prism of public diplomacy. And the view that the rest of the world has of a country that tortures its prisoners is decidedly negative.


Vlad the Great Strides West

Posted March 17, 2007 on 1:20 pm | In the category Russia | by Mackenzie Brothers

There are two kinds of reports coming out of contemporary Russia. One has to do with things like the brutal war in Chechyna, or the corruption and violence that is endemic to Russian life, and particularly dangerous for opposition politicians and muckracking journalists. The other has to do with the breathtaking display of exploding political and economic power that Russia has been able to sustain in the reign of Vladimir Putin. Putin may have taken on the powers of a czar, but by law his reign must end at about the same time as that of George W. Bush. The people of Russia seem to be in no mood to punish the ascetic, all-powerful former KGB agent for his strong-armed approach to maintaining order as they regain much of the confidence in the strength of the world’s largest country that had been lost with the fall of the Soviet Union. In fact it can be argued that Putin is the most popular elected head of state in the world; polls show an approval rating that George Bush can’t imagine, even though there is little chance of an opposition getting a fair shake in an election in Putin’s Russia. Virtually noone can make sense of former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s claim that his pal Putin was “ein lupenreiner Demokrat” – a pure democrat – but the western European leaders, in their private moments, would probably all agree that they prefer to deal with a stable regime in Moscow than with the anarchy that preceded Putin.
With little time left in his reign (and there is much speculation about what the still young ex-chief will do, surely more than Bill Clinton has been able to muster in a similar situation), Putin is using his re-established power base to forge alliances with former enemies who themselves have trouble fathoming the US government. In the last week he has had a private meeting with the Pope in a tentative attempt to bring some conciliation between Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians. This meeting took place without translators as Putin announced that he wished to talk to the Pope in his native German, which Putin speaks very well. (As an aside, wasn’t Condoleeza Rice, as an academic, supposed to be an expert on Russian affairs? Does she use a translator in Moscow? Is there any sign that she has any understanding of Russia?) He then had apparently fruitful meetings with the italian Prime Minister in Rome, signed an accord with the presidents of Greece and Bulgaria in Athens, establishing a pipeline for Russian oil on its way to western Europe that is 51% under Russian control, stopped the building of the Iranian nuclear plant, pending the payment of Iranian debts to Russia, announced that Aeroflot would be spending 4.4 billion dollars to buy 22 Airbusses made in western Europe, while shutting down any negotiations with Boeing, and stated that Russia was considering closing its air space to western European airlines. All in a week’s work, one might say, but it is also all proof that Russia has made clear to western Europe and the US that they no longer have the luxury of putting their heads in the sand when it comes to assessing Russia’s place in world politics.

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Bush’s Last Chance??

Posted March 2, 2007 on 5:39 pm | In the category Iran, North Korea, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

Graham Allison has written an op ed about diplomacy and power in the Kennedy era for today’s Boston Globe. Reading the piece suggests that the Bush administration – after six years – may be beginning to look for a philosophical center for its foreign policy. The piece compares the recent negotiations with North Korea and the planned multilateral discussions with Iran, to the approaches taken by Kennedy with the Soviet Union. The article quotes former Bush advisor and UN ambassador John Bolton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on the merits – or lack thereof – of negotiating with the likes of Iran and N. Korea. The money quotes are:

From Gates in 2004:

“Iran is not on the verge of another revolution . . . The durability of the Islamic Republic and the urgency of the concerns surrounding its policies mandate that the United States deal with the current regime rather than wait for it to fall.”

From Bolton in 2007 re: the agreement with N. Korea:

“[The N. Korea agreement] contradicts the fundamental premises of the president’s policy he’s been following for the past six years.” (Vice President Cheney is quoted: “We don’t negotiate with evil, we defeat it.”)

Bolton’s and Cheney’s comments represent the Bush-Cheney approach of power without diplomacy that has given us the Iraq “thing”, N. Korean nuclear weapons, and a stronger Iran headed for nuclear self-sufficiency. While it is late in the game for the Bush presidency, he actually has an opportunity to leave a legacy that will not be the raving insult that he currently courts with history.

The N. Korea agreement, while only a beginning, is after all, better than we had come to expect from this administration.  Similarly, the movement towards talking with Iran hints at possible advances. The question is whether the Cheney gang will come back into dominance or whether diplomacy can proceed. Cheney is unlikely to watch the latter happen without a fight. We shall see.

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A tale of two countries.

Posted March 1, 2007 on 10:16 pm | In the category Canada, Terrorism, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Mackenzie Brothers

Condoleeza Rice made short hop up to Ottawa last week, perhaps to try to smooth ruffled feathers after George Bush once again failed to mention Canada in his discussion of countries contributing to the war effort in Afghanistan. But she was there long enough to be confronted by the unanimous verdict of the Canadian Supreme Court – 9-0 – that it was unconstitutional for the government to override the judicial system or the Canadian Charter of Rights in dealing with suspected terrorists. Shortly after that a solid majority in the House of Parliament voted to retire special legislation that had made circumvention of the usual legal practices in the wake of the attack on New York and Washington a possibility. The differences between the two countries five years after that attack could hardly be more startling.

While the US has allowed that terrible day to turn it into something of a rogue fortress state, demanding visas for citizens of the great majority of countries and passports for all visitors including soon neighbours travelling by car, Canada has changed very little other than by displaying increased vigilance by police authorities at border crossings and closer surveillance of suspicious groups in urban areas. A recent poll showing that almost 50% of foreign travellers considered the US (and not Russian or China) to be the most unwelcoming place to try to visit, while 2% chose Canada, shows one of the potential long-term consequences of these policies. According to a recent article in the NY Times, foreign business people are beginning to avoid travel to and meetings in the US. It may be that Canada will prove to have been a bit too naive in its mild response to terrorist threats, but it would be a hot winter day in the Yukon before you’ll find any Canadians who wish they were holed up behind the walls of a fortress.

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