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Friday, December 29

India-China relations: America's Frankenstein and India's river waters

The war that everyone fears is coming will not arise in the Middle East and it might not come in your lifetime, but it's on the way, sure as rain. The irreversible steps were taken before you were born when a coalition of India's raja families backed Mohandas Gandhi's pacifist approach to dealing with the British Raj.

The alternative, backed by a smaller group of raja families, India's independence activists, and a few members of the US Congress, was to demand that the British quit India and to back up the demand with military force if necessary. The latter approach was doomed because the activists wanted to bring in democracy, which most raja families feared would destroy their wealth.

One consequence of the decades of foot-dragging under Gandhi's leadership was that India's army was in ruins when the British finally quit India, which meant the army was unable to face down China over the invasion of Tibet.

All that's happened since with regard to the situation, all that will happen, arose from greed, cowardice, and a betrayal of the public trust. The raja families who continued to serve the wishes of their British masters at the expense of their subjects are the model for the "900 Lazy Bastards" I sometimes mention.

The situation that set up conditions for inevitable war is water under the bridge -- or should I say water sweeping away bridges. What's done is done, but the entire world will eventually pay the price for China's invasion of Tibet.

Is there anything that the most powerful nation can do to shift the implacable course of events ever so slightly, so that the worst does not happen down the line? A ghost of a chance would mean a shift in viewpoint from the US Department of State and the US Congress about Russia. If there is any country that might buffer the situation between China and India, it is Russia. And State would need to confront China's water shortage and the impact on China's relations with India.

The journey of a thousand miles starts with the American electorate getting informed about India-China relations. On December 23 The Washington Times published an excellent analysis of present India-China relations. I post the entire article here with the request that readers study it very carefully because it's also a primer on China's style of diplomacy and foreign policy thinking.

However, the analysis -- necessarily short -- does not discuss the China-India water angle, so I am also posting two articles on the topic. In the first article, note the statement by China's ministry that the Zhada dam in Tibet was built with consideration for the impact on the "lower reaches" -- India -- then note the news report that follows on about the flooding of the Sutlej.
India, China seek cooperative image
By Brahma Chelleney
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
WORLD BRIEFINGS
December 23, 2006

NEW DELHI -- Managed competition is likely to define the relationship between the two demographic titans, India and China, in the years ahead, even as they seek to expand bilateral cooperation.

During Chinese President Hu Jintao's November visit to India, the underlying wariness or even suspicion of each other's intentions was hardly absent. Yet both sides felt the need to publicly play down the competitive dynamics of their relationship and emphasize cooperation.

The visit, although low in substance, yielded a rhetoric-laden joint statement with nice jingles, such as "all-round mutually beneficial cooperation." At a time when Beijing has not hidden its unease about the larger strategic implications of the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal, the statement promised the two sides would "promote cooperation in the field of nuclear energy, consistent with their respective international commitments" -- a symbolic commitment unlikely to translate into action.

It makes sense for India to stress cooperation while working to narrow the power disparity with China and build greater stability and equilibrium in Asia through strategic ties with other democracies, including the United States and Japan. To China, an accent on cooperation dovetails with its larger strategy to advertise its "peaceful rise." China's strategy has been built around a theme: Its emergence as a great power is unstoppable, and it is thus incumbent on other nations to adjust to that rise.

Still, the strained and fragile nature of relations between the two Asian giants was exposed on the eve of Mr. Hu's visit by the Chinese ambassador's bellicose claim in public that the entire northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh belongs to China. This compelled Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee to respond that "every inch of Arunachal Pradesh is part of India."

With Mr. Hu by his side, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave vent to India's disquiet over the slow progress of the 25-year-old border negotiations with China by calling for efforts to settle the "outstanding issues in a focused, sincere and problem-solving manner."

The two countries are locked in what some consider the longest and most-barren negotiating process between any two countries in modern world history. By urging that improvement in bilateral ties be made "irreversible," Mr. Singh pointed to the danger that blunt assertion of territorial claims or other belligerent actions could undo the gains.

It is true that India and China have a mutual stake in maintaining the peaceful diplomatic environment on which their continued economic modernization and security depend. Despite Beijing's reluctance to fully define the military line separating the Chinese and Indian armies, the Himalayan border remains peaceful.

Yet there is no congruence on geopolitical issues. That is why the proclaimed "India-China strategic and cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity" remains devoid of content. The two sides can only showcase their fast-growing trade, which has risen to almost $20 billion this year from just $260 million in 1990.

But Japan and China, with 10 times higher trade volume, are discovering that when strategic animosities remain untreated, interdependent commercial ties do not guarantee moderation. Similarly, Japan and South Korea, with bilateral trade more than twice as large as Sino-Indian exports and imports, are finding it hard to ease their prickly political relationship, despite both being military allies of the United States.

Interstate economic ties in today's market-driven world are not constrained by political problems. Even if China-India trade overtakes U.S.-India trade -- a likely scenario -- political issues will continue to divide Beijing and New Delhi.

The India-China strategic dissonance is rooted not only in their contrasting political ideals and quiet rivalry, but also in Beijing's relentless pursuit of a classical, Sun Tzu-style balance-of-power strategy. While seeking to present itself as a see-no-evil, do-no-evil state, China is zealously working to build up its power capabilities to engage the world on its own terms. In order to avert the rise of a peer rival in Asia, it has sought to tie down India strategically.

China has stepped up strategic pressure on India on three separate flanks. It is fashioning two north-south strategic corridors on either side of India -- the trans-Karakoram corridor from Xinjiang stretching right up to Pakistan's Chinese-built Gwadar port, at the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world's oil supply passes; and the Irrawaddy corridor involving road, river and rail links from Yunnan to the Burmese ports on the Bay of Bengal.

Brahma Chelleney, a professor at the privately funded Center for Policy Research n New Delhi, is an author, most recently, of "Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan" (HarperCollins 2006).

China's river plan worries India
by Indrani Bagchi
The Times of India
October 23, 2006

NEW DELHI: A controversial Chinese plan — currently on the boil in Beijing, that involves damming the Brahmaputra river and diverting 200 billion cubic metres of water annually to feed the ageing Yellow river — is giving sleepless nights to the Indian government.

Though it is still at the discussion stage and presents an enormous engineering challenge, the plan reportedly has the backing of Chinese President Hu Jintao, a hydro-engineer by profession, say sources in Beijing.

The idea, nevertheless, is believed to be serious enough to warrant exchange of cables between Beijing and New Delhi. India plans to engage in some serious consultations with China on this issue over the next few months.

The project plans to take the diverted water to feed north-eastern China watering Shaanxi, Hebei, Beijing and Tianjin areas, which could be looking at a parched future.

If the project goes through, it could strangle one of India's and Bangladesh's biggest sources of water.

China's economic prowess is the toast of the moment, but China's real source of influence over its southern neighbours is that it controls the tap for this part of the world.

The proposed project, called the 'Greater Western Water Diversion Project', is part of the gigantic South-North water project that has already been started by China.

In August, the Chinese government sanctioned 300 billion yuan to divert water from the upper reaches of the Yangtze river in the Qinghai

In August, the Chinese government sanctioned 300 billion yuan to divert water from the upper reaches of the Yangtze river in the Qinghai-Tibet plateau to the upper reaches of the Yellow river in north-western China.

It will bring water from the Yalong, Dadu and Jinsha rivers, which are tributaries of the Yangtze, to the upper reaches of the Yellow river.

It is the proposed western route of this project being debated in China at present that is worrying strategists and policy-planners in the Indian government.

They believe this project, if allowed unopposed, could have immense impact on lower riparian states like India and Bangladesh.

Indian officials are preparing for detailed discussions with their Chinese counterparts over the next few months. The western diversion project is inspired by a book, How Tibet's Water Will Save China, by Li Ling. [See In China, a Water Plan Smacks of Mao].

Picking up a great deal of support among the Communist party leadership in Beijing, sources said, this book details the proposal by hydrologist Guo Kai called “Shuo-tian” (reverse flow) canal, which proposes to divert the Brahmaputra.

Recently, responding to Indian media reports that China had built a dam on the Sutlej river, the Chinese foreign ministry acknowledged the dam in Zhada county in Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) but said they did it for electricity for the local population.

In doing so, they "considered fully the impact on lower reaches".

Raging Sutlej threatens Kinnaur
Pioneer News Service
June 28, 2005
Hindunet

Note: India's river water and flodding is under China's control. This is too dangerous for India and must not be toletated, and should be corrected by India by getting control over the land where these lakes reside, namely the Tibet.

The overflowing Pare Chu in Tibet left a trail of destruction in the Kinnaur valley of Himachal Pradesh on Sunday even as Kinnaur was on full alert. The torrent washed away five bridges over the Sutlej and damaged key bridges in areas near the Nathpa-Jhakri hydro power.

Among the worst affected is the commercial town of Rampur, where the swollen Sutlej has broken banks and left many homeless. Two villages of Jango and Lio have been washed away but there has been no loss of human lives because the evacuation process started just in time.

Whether the situation could get worse is not immediately known. The Government is not sure whether the surge of water is overflowing from the artificial lake formed on the Pare Chu or whether its walls have been breached. It expects a satellite picture of the site on Monday. The lake is perched atop an inaccessible valley making a spot visit difficult.

The artificial lake has been holding an expanding mass of water since August 2004. It is believed that glacier melting, exacerbated by an unusually hot summer, and followed by incessant snowfall has caused the artificial lake on the Pare Chu to either overflow or breach. The peaks around Chitkul village close to the Indo-Tibetan border received a fresh coat of snow as late as June 12. The waters of the Sutlej had been rising for the past three days.

The Centre's Crisis Management Group, chaired by Cabinet Secretary BK Chaturvedi, held an emergency meeting of top officials here after large parts of the valley were put on alert. A close vigil is being maintained at Kinnaur, Rampur, Bilaspur and Mandi districts of the State. Army helicopters are on stand-by in Chandigarh. The Centre has also rushed two companies of the specialised disaster management force.

"The alert comes because of a sudden rise in water level of river Pare Chu," Home Secretary VK Duggal said in New Delhi. "The levels shot up to about 50 metres but have now stabilised at 30 metres," he said. At least 4,500 people were evacuated during the day. "There has been no loss of life yet," he said.

The Centre is co-ordinating with the Directorate General of Military Operations (DGMO) and Indo Tibetan Border Force (ITBF) for evacuating people believed to be at risk from the rising waters.

As a precaution all the six power generation units of the 1,500 mw Nathpa Jhakri hydro power project along the Sutlej and its tributaries were shut down on Saturday. The gushing waters have also brought with it several tonnes of silt down the Sutlej, raising the silt content in the river to 8,000 particles per ml (PPM). The desilting chambers of the hydropower units are capable of handling only 5,000 ppm. This is a second time in a week that the plant has been forced to shut down, affecting power supplies within the state and to the Northern Grid. Had the plant not been shut down yesterday, it could have been severely damaged today.

A crucial bridge linking Rampur to Kinnaur has been severely damaged at Jagatkhana, snapping this town's lifeline with northern parts of Himachal Pradesh. According to Kinnaur SP Arvind Sharda, the Pare Chu overflow has washed away four bridges upstream of Sutlej ahead of the district headquarters town of Reckong Peo towards Pooh, and one downstream near Karchham. These bridges were crucial supply and link lines to Kinnaur.

Senior police officials say that the Pare Chu level has stabilised after the flooding though IAF helicopters are patrolling the banks of the Sutlej and the highway to Kinnaur has been closed.

Monday, December 25

The Pope delivers a Christmas whine and Pundita tells of her visit from a dead Pope

Pope Benedict XVI has delivered his Christmas Day homily, which boils down to a laundry list of the world's ills during what he terms the age of "unbridled consumerism."

Pundita cannot think of a time in history when humans have not engaged in unbridled consumerism if given half a chance. What's new about this era is unbridled politics -- an inevitable byproduct of greater freedom in many countries.

Those who ponder deeply on the matter know that humanity cannot expect a world of perfect peace, for that would ring down the curtain on a realm where joy is followed by sorrow. And we cannot expect every heart to be large, for the execution of many matters in the world requires a heart undistracted by a strong impulse for charity.

Yet who among us wants to be on the crying end, if we claim there must always be suffering in the world? When our back is against a wall, we want everyone near to overflow with the milk of kindness.

Is that the message to take from the birth of Jesus and the endurance of his teachings? Well, Pundita is not Christian -- I do not belong to any one religion. But in honor of the day, I will tell sort of a Christian story to illustrate a message I take from the teachings of Jesus:

One day I was writing an essay for this blog when Pope John Paul II appeared in my living room, standing no more than two yards from me. He wasn't there in the flesh; it was just a very strong impression of his form, and there was a bright golden-white light around him.

Through my surprise I noted that he looked hale and hearty yet I'd heard that he had been ill. He also looked sharp as a tack and he was standing straight, not bent over as I had remembered him from more recent news photographs.

The Pope did not say a word, but he smiled at me with such cheer and fondness that I was rendered speechless with confusion. I found myself returning his smile. A sense of calm joy came over me. The Pope's silent visit lasted for some minutes then ended as suddenly as it had manifested.

Then I asked the empty room, "What was that about?"

After I returned to work on the essay I went on the Internet, which is how I learned that the Pope had just died. I was stunned at the profound significance of the visitation. But why should he appear to me, of all people, at the time of his death? I thought and thought. Then I remembered.

I heard on the radio that Pope John Paul II had just been shot and rushed to the hospital for surgery. I had never met the Pope and strongly disagreed with several of his stands. Yet I was outraged that a nonviolent religious leader who gave hope to so many millions was cut down in such manner.

To my mind, the shooting was as much an act of war against civilization as against a particular person and religion. With that thought I fell on my knees and cried that I would stay on my knees praying for the Pope's recovery until I heard word that he would survive.

Here's a tip: make sure to go stand on a rug before swearing to fall on your knees for hours on end. Yet despite my discomfort at kneeling on a bare floor, I determined to stick it out. I can't remember how long I kneeled except that it was quite a long time. I also recall that I prayed with great fervor, even though I am not a praying sort and was even less that sort in those days.

At some point a news bulletin announced that the Pope had survived the operation and that there was hope for his recovery. Then I got off my knees but kept up my prayers until I learned he had passed the danger point.

The incident quickly faded from my conscious memory. Through the intervening decades I remained a sharp critic of Vatican policy in Latin America and Africa. My prayers for Pope John Paul's recovery did not soften my personal opinion of him; indeed, when I realized the significance of his visitation I blurted, "I guess this means the old buzzard is beatified, after all."

Yet I believe that Pope John Paul's appearance to me at the time of his death was to assure me that God notices and remembers even the smallest sincere act to help innocent victims.

I note the current Pope spoke of the plight of innocent victims in his Christmas homily, but we have 364 days of the year to hear speeches about suffering. This is a day to make a joyful noise and consider the many triumphs of the Christian teachings on compassion and faith.

No firing automatic weapons in the air, but grab a tambourine or a couple blocks of wood and make a huge clatter if you are not a singing sort. If there are no musical instruments around grab a pot and spoon and make a racket! The Son of Man is born -- or is it the Son of God? Or was it the Holy Ghost who appeared among us? Pundita can never get Christian theology straight but no matter; today is the day we honor the birthday of someone who loves humanity a lot and represents the Divine's boundless compassion for sinners. That's reason enough for celebration.

Merry Christmas to one and all!

Friday, December 22

Economic class, as much as religious affiliation, drives political rivalries in Iraq

In Karrada, a mostly Shiite Baghdad neighborhood of large, tan houses owned by educated professionals and bureaucrats, the trim-bearded Hakim smiles from a large billboard in front of his headquarters. […] Less than a mile away in a bustling, working-class section of Karrada, in a poster hanging in a grimy sidewalk restaurant, the thick-bearded Sadr weeps.(1)
Let’s not get so carried away with Shiite-Sunni rivalries that we overlook how class differences are playing out in Iraq’s political struggles. The Bush administration sees Abdul Aziz al-Hakim as a moderate and Moqtada al-Sadr as an extremist. But the labels say as much about economic status as militancy because both Shiite leaders command a militia.

The other day Dave Schuler sent me a New York Times December 20 article on Hakim’s efforts to forge a coalition of moderate Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, and which points up the power that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani still wields in Iraq’s political process. Yesterday Dave published the article alongside a December 21 Washington Post article that looks at the rivalry between Hakim and Sadr, and which calls into question the extent of Sistani’s power at this juncture.(1)

The Times tends to favor reporting on the CIA analysis of things, and the Post tends to reflect the analysis of the US Department of State. Yet both articles clearly indicate that the democratic process of maneuvering for compromise among rival factions and deal-making is alive and well in Iraq; this, despite the insurgency and rampages of the militias.

Political events are moving very fast in Iraq. The Times article (filed December 19) noted Sadr’s boycott of the Parliament. By the 21st, the Associated Press reported that Sadr had ended the three-week boycott – surely as a maneuver to present himself as more moderate, as a challenge to Hakim’s moderate stance. From the Times article:
Since Mr. Sadr’s loyalists began boycotting the government last month, the Parliament has been unable to form a quorum, preventing the passage of laws. [Hakim's] new coalition is aimed at circumventing that kind of conflict, its leaders say, which is probably why Ayatollah Sistani is willing to lend his support.
Clearly, Mookie no longer wants to be seen as an obstructionist -- at least not for the time being.

1) The quote is from The Washington Post’s article mentioned above. See The Glittering Eye post Three Clerics for links to the Times and Post pieces. Both articles are worth the read for background on events this January, which could take a dramatic turn when Bush announces a revised policy on dealing with Iraq’s insurgency.

Wednesday, December 20

Dave Schuler weighs in on the Fair Trade-Free Trade debate, and a few more words on Iraq

"Dear Pundita: Re your post on social dumping:

If I had more energy perhaps I could come up with a "Top 10", but I have managed to come up with a Top 5 ways you can tell that Fair Trade is starting to get traction (or that free trade is losing ground):

1. Collapse of the Doha round.

2. The U. S. vital interest (intellectual property) didn't even make it onto the table in the Doha round as it was.

3. Leftward swing of Latin American governments.

4. Fair trade is a successful campaign issue in states that are selling products rather than services e.g. Iowa, Ohio, and Florida.

5. This story in The New York Times on the horrible working and environmental conditions in China.

The U. S. is the great prodder on free trade. As we lose clout or lose interest it's not surprising that the move towards free trade slows. If the salt loses its savor, etc.
Dave Schuler
The Glittering Eye
P.S. I linked to your conversation with Michael Wright in the colloquium on Iraq I've been carrying on for the last week or so."

Dear Dave:
This gives me the opportunity to congratulate you for being a finalist in the 2006 Weblog Awards in the Centrist Blog category. I consider you more nonaligned than centrist, but I guess the Weblog folks didn’t have such a category. As for me, I find your nonaligned approach to analysis to be valuable.

Re #4 on your Top 4 list -- great catch, noting that these are product-selling states, and the implications.

As to the collapse of Doha: US trade reps are shedding crocodile tears over the collapse of multilateral trade deals while racing all over the world and signing bilateral trade deals. It’s the same for everyone else right now. But bilateralism in trade deals tends to work against free trade because it stimulates the beggar-thy-neighbor approach and protectionism.

The only good news I can glean from all this is that the Doha Round wasn’t really representative of trade multilateralism, which opens a way to get multilateral trade talks back on track.

Doha was an attempt to work a kind of welfare for the poorer countries into multilateral trade deals. The US promised the moon to governments that could assist the US in the war on terror. They were making promises they couldn’t keep. Doha collapsed when the poorer nations ganged up and called the bluff.

So one hopes that the next round of WTO talks will focus on shoring multilateral trade deals -- and without the bells and whistles of the Doha Round.

Thank you for including me in the blogger colloquium on Iraq. For readers who want to follow the colloquium on the topic Directions on Iraq, check the link I’ve provided for the archives on the past days and Dave’s main page for daily posts on the topic.

Right now it seems the direction in Iraq is being set by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who heads Iraq’s SCIRI (Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq). According to a December 10 opinion piece by Jim Hoagland for The Washington Post:
In recent weeks British commanders have reported to London that Hakim’s Shiite political party [. . .] has completed a gradual takeover of Iraq’s south. That leaves British forces with little ability to influence events –- or reason to stay on much longer in any large numbers[. . .]
That’s why I was fuming at the British command during my talk with Mike. From day one, the British helped set up conditions for a partition of the south. An informal partition of Iraq into three autonmous regions is all over but the shouting, as far as they’re concerned. But that means Iran will run a big portion of Iraq.

I suppose the British would retort that the only thing they’re guilty of is extreme realism yet that would be a backward approach; it’s rooted in their colonial experience of managing "native" governments. That experience included tamping down democratic movements.

Is it too late to turn back the tide in Iraq and strengthen the central government? I remain hopeful, if only because war demands hope.

Tuesday, December 19

Run for your life! Social dumping arrives on American shores!

The Global Trade Watch report argues, "One need look no further than the massively successful fair trade campaigns in key presidential states-Florida (Tim Mahoney), Iowa (Bruce Braley, Dave Loebsack), New Hampshire (Paul Hodes, Carol Porter Shea), and Ohio (Sherrod Brown, Ted Strickland)-to understand that the electoral and political impact of trade is huge... and will have serious implications for both the 2008 presidential race and the future course of U.S. trade policy."(1)
If you thought Pundita was just trying to scare the daylights out of you when she warned last year that social dumping was heading our way from Europe, it's too late now to avoid your awful fate if you're in the Free Trade camp.

If you tell me you haven't seen any headlines about social dumping arriving in the USA -- yes you have; it's just that the bastards have cleverly re-named social dumping so you won't flee in terror. They're calling it "Fair Trade."

Now what is the difference between Fair Trade and Free Trade? (I am capitalizing the terms because they've come to have very specific connotations in relationship to each other.)

Free Trade is that horribly unfair process whereby people trade freely with each other and try to get as rich as they can from doing it at the expense of everyone else. Fair Trade is -- I'll allow Sherrod Brown, the Democrat Senate winner from Ohio, to explain it his way:
"We're going to see a different direction in trade policy," said Brown in a conference call after the elections. "Not just the defeat of these job-killing trade agreements. We're going to see real trade policy written in both houses with environmental protections, labor protections, food safety provisions and all of that, that will lift workers in both our country and the countries we're trading with."(2)
In short, free trade has been redefined by viewing it from the concept of fairness. Thus, Free Trade, by its very nature, destroys civilization.

If you ask what Mr Brown means exactly by "all of that" -- he means making trade agreements that are specifically designed to prevent you from doing social dumping in the effort to get ahead in life.

You are not supposed to get ahead if it means having to dump comforts you've obtained thus far. If you now want to get up at 4 AM and work until 8 PM instead of 4 PM, you have no right to be so hard on yourself. Why? Because if you do it, everyone else will have to do it to keep up with your standard of labor. And that's not fair. It's so unfair that countries must start working criteria for fairness into their trade agreements.

If you think Pundita has been chewing peyote, re-read the post on social dumping, and this time pay attention.

For the two sides of the Free Trade vs. Fair Trade debate (yes, the Fair Trade idea has gone far enough to require debate) read Robert J. Samuelson's 'Fair Trade' Foolishness and Mark Engler's Slowing the free-trade bulldozer.

Samuelson can't quite bring himself to discuss the full import of Fair Trade, and Engler dodges the jackboot aspect of Fair Trade agreements. But between them they get the reader in the ballpark.

By the way, if you're sitting in a small, poor country and thinking smugly that you don't have to run for your life if social dumping has landed in America -- you haven't yet grasped the situation. China's economy has so much clout that they can afford to scoff at insane Fair Trade stipulations worked into US trade agreements. But your country isn't China, is it!

If you tell me that you don't want to be constrained from social dumping in your effort to get ahead, that's not very fair of you. My country is now poised to write trade agreements that will make you a fairer person.

1) Quote from Mark Engler's essay.
2) From the Miami Herald's Democrats won big by opposing free-trade agreements.

Monday, December 18

Michael Wright and Pundita rumble over Iraq

Michael Wright: Iraq's generals have told the US military command, "Just give us airpower and tanks and you can go home."

Pundita: You know what they plan to do with those weapons. Same thing Saddam Hussein did after the US military command said okay to his request to arm helicopters with guns, only he used them against the Shia uprising.

Michael Wright: It's coming, anyway; it's here now. They're intent on purging the Sunni minority, and they're going to do it.

Pundita: Not if Saudi money has anything to say about it. It's a Mexican Standoff. There's no way the US can stop the Saudis from funding a Sunni insurgency in Iraq as long as the Saudis perceive there's a purge in effect.

Michael Wright: The Saudis are crazy. They wanted Saddam and his government overthrown; they had to know that doing that was opening Pandora's Box in the Middle East, if they didn't want a Shiite Crescent.

Pundita: Bandar told Cheney or maybe he told Powell, as soon as he was informed about the US plan to invade, "Just remember you bought the farm" or words to that effect. Yes, everybody saw what could happen. Nobody banked on the US military being hamstrung by the agendas of our dear allies in the invasion, Israel and Great Britain.

Michael Wright: You can't pin any of the blame on Israel. They wanted to see the country split up only after they saw the US had completely lost control of the situation. The Israelis wanted the same thing the Saudis wanted, and what the vast majority of the Iraqi people wanted. They wanted to see order imposed on the country in the aftermath of the invasion. When that didn't happen, then it was every man for himself. Let the agendas rule.

Pundita: Okay, then answer me this: how can you empty an ocean with a sieve? The British command insisted on leaving the southern border wide open. That's because the British government wanted to pacify Iran's government. So you tell me how many US troops, and how many billions of dollars it would have taken, to bring order to Iraq. We're fighting Syria and Iran in Iraq, whether the frontmen are Sunni insurgents or al Qaeda terrorists.

Look, this is not from me. Iraqis like Ghazi al-Yawer were screaming at the US command, and Washington, to seal the borders. It was the only way to bring order to Iraq because Iranians were flooding in. Granted, not all those Iranians were working under the command of Iran's military. Many were simply fleeing Iran's repressive government but they were Shiites and they swelled the ranks of Iraq's Shiite militias. Without the borders sealed and in particular the southern one, all the rest was predictable.

Michael Wright: [laughing] Oh I see where you're going! Pundita, you can't blame this on the US Department of State!

Pundita: Watch me. The little brown people over there in the Middle East will end up nuking each other, which solves that problem. But Russia will still be there, and we need back-up from the British in pounding Russia into the ground. There you have it, in one sentence: State's foreign policy.

Michael Wright: I give up! You'll sign a truce with al Qaeda before you sign one with State. Will you admit to the possibility that much of State's problem is benign?

Pundita: What do you mean?

Michael Wright: When Condi came to State, she was up against the most powerful bureaucracy in modern times so it was only natural that she'd turn to people with long experience at State to help her navigate the shoals. State's expertise is the Cold War, so Rice turned to people who had experience with Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet states.

Pundita: Ask Condoleezza Rice if she sees Iraq as a standalone war -- as separate from the war on terror. Ask her. She sees it as a separate war, and one she would not have ordered. Rice is herself a Cold War warrior. When Bush sent Rice to State, he sent the safecracker to mind the bank.

Michael Wright: We were thrown into a new war with great suddenness --

Pundita: Bah. How much notice do you need, when two of your embassies are blown up? But I get your drift. After the Cold War ended, international trade was going to make war unnecessary. America's bright young things went after MBAs; they didn't sign up in droves to join the Foreign Service.

If you remove the Cold War experts from State, the ranks are too thin to support the bureaucracy. So it is taking time to bring new thinking into State. But war is a really bad time to attempt to completely overhaul both the nation's foreign office and war department.

Michael Wright: In the end, the blame for mistakes in Iraq land on the Pentagon’s desk and the commander-in-chief's. If we're filling a bottomless pit in Iraq, does it make sense to follow [Senator Joseph] McCain's advice to deploy 15,000 more troops there?

Pundita: I don’t know, which is why I have been listening closely to McCain’s view of the situation in Iraq. When you don’t know, the best you can do is pick someone you think might know and follow his lead. McCain’s bid for the presidency is on the line, so he is heavily invested in seeing a favorable outcome for the US –-

Michael Wright: The same could be said for certain Democrats who say not to put more troops in Iraq.

Pundita: All right; I gave a poor excuse for listening to McCain. Let me rephrase: I am weighted to sending more troops to Iraq because there are not enough there now to get control of the borders. So I tend to favor the advice of people who advocate for deploying more troops.

Michael Wright: But the troops won’t necessarily be deployed to the borders; in fact, the history of the situation doesn’t suggest it will happen.

Pundita: Well, what would you suggest? Me, I’m on endless rewind: “Seal the borders beep this is a recording.”

Michael Wright: There will be a huge uprising from the nomadic tribes and from the Iranian Shiites in Iraq, if the borders are actually sealed. Also, the Iraqi religious establishment will protest because sealed borders cut down on the number of pilgrims making donations to Iraqi shrines. The idea for sealed borders was do-able during the first few months of occupation –-

Pundita: If there had been more US boots on the ground cooperation from the British command –-

Michael Wright: Sealed borders are not going to happen, Pundita. The bottom line is the US didn’t want to be seen as the conquering occupier so the spoils of war went to Iraqi’s Shiites. With or without Iranian backing, many of Iraq’s Shiites want to divest the country’s Sunnis of all power and position.

Iraq’s democracy is still very thin; it doesn’t have strong protections for civil rights. In any case, they don’t have an adequate judicial system to enforce the protections in their Constitution.

So the US can play it two ways right now: invest heavily in trying to build a functioning advanced democracy in a short amount of time, or invest heavily in educating and modernizing Iraq’s military and police forces.

Pundita: Are you saying the solution for Iraq is a military dictatorship?

Michael Wright: You’d prefer a religious dictatorship taking orders from Iran’s military? Or clan rule? I’m saying the democratically elected government is barely working right now in Iraq. That’s because people can’t fight for things they don’t see clearly.

Pundita: I don’t understand.

Michael Wright: As in the Congo, you can get people to the ballot box, but it doesn’t mean they know how things work in an advanced democracy. The number of Iraqis who have experience living under democracy is very small. A large number of Iraqis have experience with the ways things work in the military.

Right now, the military culture is the best one in Iraq for shoring up national pride and a sense of unity. The military is the best place to instill democratic values simply because the US has so much financial clout in that area.

I know my advice goes against everything you believe in, but aren’t you in danger of making the same mistake as Jeffrey Sachs? You lit into Sachs because you said he took a scorched earth approach to applying free trade principles to bring a third-world economy out of ruins.

Pundita: Here it comes. I’m a wild-eyed idealist who can’t see past the democracy doctrine.

Michael Wright: You’re much more radical. You’re the only person I know who proposes that America develop a foreign policy based on human potential.

Pundita: We’re trying to have a civilized discussion here. There’s no need to put on the brass knuckles. I’m not a granola eater.

Michael Wright: You’re more radical than the granola crunchers. Your view is that the human race is going to tank in this century unless more people get comfortable with governing themselves and develop the thinking skills necessary for the task.

I don’t agree with your position, although I admire it. I admire that you’ve stood by your position, no matter what the cost to you personally. But if you’re trying to apply your stand to Iraq, you’ve lost sight of the US reasons for the invasion, which were not to create a democracy.

Pundita: Well then by your reasoning, the only thing the Iraqis have in memory is a military dictatorship, so they should stick with that.

Michael Wright: You’re trying to substitute the known with the highly abstract, and somehow hoping that sealing the borders will leapfrog the Iraqis over generations of conditioning.

Pundita: Are you expecting the World Bank to heap modernization loans on Iraq’s military, or do you expect the US government to foot the bill?

Michael Wright: I think the Bank and other multilateral development banks could be useful in this context.

Pundita: Don’t forget that the Bank makes loans according to IMF guidelines, and that the IMF deals with governments, not generals. That’s the same for the other big transnational development banks. The IMF wants Iraq’s government to adhere to certain economic guidelines. You can’t apply that thinking to military modernization, except via economic guidelines for a country.

Michael Wright: Iraq’s military isn’t asking for stealth bombers.

Pundita: No; they just want fighter jets. I understand. Okay; then let the Saudis foot the bill, tagged to Iraq’s military wiping out the militias, including the Shiite ones.

Nobody’s asking to seal the borders indefinitely. Seal the borders long enough to do what al-Yawer and every other sensible Iraqi has been demanding, which is to conduct a reasonably accurate census. Because without a census you can’t tax the people in any fair fashion.

With or with a military dictatorship, the government is in such bad straits because of attacks on oil pipelines and tanker routes. They can’t expect oil revenues alone to do the massive task of building a suitable infrastructure from the ground up, much less modernize the military.

Remember that Iraq was in ruins even before we bombed it to rubble. Saddam was funneling uncounted USD billions into building a nuke in Libya. Pundita has not forgotten why the US invaded Iraq, but the way the developed world works, all the paths for development assistance lead to some version of the way the IMF does things.

The IMF wants to see the secular government strengthened. So whether or not Iraqis are ready for democracy, getting with the democracy program happens to be the fastest route to unlocking development megabucks. That holds true for all nations at this time in history. It’s just the way the developed nations are set up to give assistance.

So if I’m an Iraqi clan leader piddling around with a few thousand dollars I can scare up from nomad relatives or Iran’s military, I have to measure that against what the developed nations can do for my clan. That’s the bottom line; it just has to be shouted until it sinks in.

Michael Wright: I should have known better than to debate with a demagogue.

Pundita: I accept the compliment but you’re actually debating with the world’s biggest bankers. Development loans are like a huge machine with numerous working parts. People who have not seen the machine have a hard time visualizing how much needs to be in place, for the machine to work.

I used to know how much of the development loan dollar went into the actual project but a big chunk of the money goes into building the loan machine, country by country. On paper a military dictatorship can build and work the machine, and it’s been done in the past, but in this case it’s out of the question because the military is presiding over rubble.

These days, it’s all boxes in boxes: on the other end of the World Bank has to be the government departments to work out the development program and coordinate it with IMF guidelines -– a mind-boggling task requiring the labor of thousands of specialists and pen-pushers. Then the government has to work out the actual projects in the program. More specialists and pen-pushers. Then the money has to be disbursed and the project overseen and executed.

In essence, these days governments have to be set up according to rather sophisticated levels of functioning, just to get more than a few big external development loans. And the governments can’t be set up that way, if a few generals and clan leaders think they can run a modern country.

I understand you know all this stuff but you don’t apply it, when you peg me as a radical. I’m just saying the things that any international development banker would say. Democracy is no longer a luxury. Democracy is no longer an ideal. Today, it’s just the shortest distance between rubble and getting the rubble cleared away. It’s the easiest way to set up effective government for serving large populations, if you want a large measure of outside help.

Why is it easier? Because of the way the machine works. If you want your toaster to work when you plug it in the socket, you don’t need a fancy electrical grid. If 50 million people want their toaster to work, they need a grid. Same principle applies to a government getting into the business of chasing development loans. Today, democracy is to government what the power plant grid is to electricity.

And I’ll tell you it’s only getting tougher for the governments because there are now teeth in the Bank’s anti-graft measures.

If you want to say to hell with the machine, my cousin Abdul the rich nomad will throw me a few hundred thousand dollars in cash to build a water treatment plant for my town –- okay. Now how long do you think you stay alive, if you don’t peel off many thousands to keep your other cousins from killing you to get control the funds?

Michael Wright: Setting up the infrastructure has not made China a democracy. Sri Lanka was a democracy in name only when the Mahaweli Dam was built.

Pundita: China’s government bled copiously because of corruption arising from the influx of the big development loans, although much of the story has not been made public. China’s government lost so much money and made so much mess for themselves, it could take generations to recover.

The Mahaweli Dam project is the textbook illustration of what happens when you make a mega-development loan in a country that has only the rudiments of democracy. Fighting over the loan bonanza –- fighting over jobs connected with the project, contracting business, and land grabs -- helped ignite Sri Lanka’s ethnic cleansing in the 1980s.

I’m trying to think of a metaphor that best illustrates the situation but the best I can come up with right now is to say that doing things the clan way in today’s world is only like stepping on a land mine. But doing things the IMF way, in a country without a democratic government infrastructure, is like dropping a bomb on your own head.

Then the governments call the development banks the devil. The truth is that the development loan gizmo is constructed to plug into a democracy socket.

That observation holds true, even though the Islamic Development Bank specializes in making loans to Islamic governments, which are for the most part authoritarian and horribly corrupt and thus, horribly inefficient.

Michael Wright: So what you’re saying is if Iraq’s military wants to quickly raise billions for modernization, they are best advised to work through a government with democratic channels in place.

Pundita: If they are serious about making their military efficient in quick time. Making the channels in Iraq is not easy, of course, but the alternative is like routing a trip from New York to Boston by way of Bangkok.

Michael Wright: Will the development banks lend to Iraq in big ways while the country is so violent?

[long pause]

Pundita: If you think you have me cornered –-

Michael Wright: I’m here in peace.

Wednesday, December 13

Vote for Riehl World View!

One of my favorite bloggers, Dan Riehl of Riehl World View has made it into the finals for the 2006 Weblog Awards in the Best Individual Blog category. Way to go, Dan! Congratulations to a "blogger's blogger."

Click here to vote for Dan's blog. You can vote every day.

The generals outwit Iran’s democracy activists

TEHRAN, December 12 ... Iranian students staged a rare demonstration yesterday against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, lighting a firecracker and burning his photograph in the audience as he delivered a speech at their university ...The outspoken leader responded calmly when the students at Amir Kabir Technical University started chanting, "Death to the dictator" … Ahmadinejad supporters in the audience began to chant in response, silencing the protesters. The president then continued his speech. There was no report of the authorities arresting any of the protesters.(*)
"Don't quit your day job Pundita. And since you know absolutely nothing about Iran, I would shut my gob if I were you. We Iranians are SICK to death of you arrogant, bloviating airhead westerners offering your opinions about which you know ZILCH. So sod off because Madam, no one gives a rodent's posterior about your blog.
Catyoun in Cambridge, MA"

What you mean “we,” kemosabe? You talk like a Brit who’s watched The Sopranos too many times. Your address suggests you attend Harvard. The surname you provided is Dutch. And you think you speak for the Iranian people?

It’s a safe bet that the only Iranians you speak for are the segment known as university student, whether or not you’re an Iranian expat who has spent time in Europe.

The students’ delusion that they speak for all Iranians is just what allowed Iran’s generals to outmaneuver Iran’s most visible democracy activists.

Iran’s generals knew that the university students had no rear guard and that their flanks were unprotected: the students didn’t have Iran’s poor and the villagers behind them. All they had behind them was the Western press, the CIA and MI6. So the generals devised a simple strategy.

First, they gave the students enough rope to hang themselves with. In the year running up to Iran’s presidential election they allowed the students to take more liberties with their dress, protesting in public, and promoting democracy. Then the generals asked conservative Iranians, "Is this what you want running your country? A bunch of city libertines trying to impose godless Western culture on our land?"

Next, they fielded a candidate –- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad –- who presented himself as a champion of the poor and spoke in the language of simple religious faith, which resonated with the villagers.

Sure, the generals bought insurance through the usual means: arrests, torture, and stuffing ballot boxes, but their strategy worked. When Western observers protested the vote count, the generals could dredge up many Iranians who told the press in all sincerity that Ahmadinejad was the man for the job.

Iran’s democracy activists –- the nonviolent ones -- were set up. I note that’s pretty easy to do, when military strategists run a county.

I appreciate your frustration over the fact that few Westerners know your country. But one doesn’t need to know Iran, to know the military mind. One doesn’t need to know Iran, to know how things work in a military dictatorship. And one doesn’t need to know Iran, to know what happens to the thinking of people when they spend years in a golden cage.

In essence, Iran’s military built a golden cage with oil wealth for Iran’s city youth and for the war veterans after Iran’s war with Iraq. The beneficiaries could attend university and get jobs with government, and live in peace -- as long as they didn’t bite the hand that fed them.

Yet it’s simply the nature of the human brain –- not cultural conditioning -- as to what happens to people who live in a golden cage: after a time, they have trouble seeing the bars.

So I didn’t need to know Iran, in order to be alarmed when I learned that many of Iran’s democracy activists were using the kind of protest strategies deployed in the American Civil Rights movement. For heaven’s sake, America isn’t a military dictatorship!

Also alarming was that the Iranian democracy activists I heard speak in the media didn’t seem to acknowledge that Iranians were living under a military dictatorship. They railed against Iran’s corrupt religious leaders, but those leaders are window dressing. They live at the pleasure of the military. They, too, live in a golden cage.

The truth is that Americans have no choice but to form an opinion about Iran. That’s because your country and mine are at war, and have been for a long time. You can split a hair and call it “hostilities” but it is a cold war, nonetheless.

Also, Iranian democracy activists have been fundraising in the USA. Americans have a habit of opening their checkbook to any foreigner who says “I’m fighting oppression” and “I want democracy” in the same sentence. How to tell which democracy activists are genuine, and which ones work for Iran’s military?

So, no matter how imperfect the intel on Iran, Americans must make decisions based on it. But now tell me, just where have Americans –- including the CIA -- gotten most of their information about Iran’s political situation? They’ve gotten it from Iranians who fit your profile: well-educated, English-speaking, and familiar with Western culture.

Much of the intelligence that Americans have taken about Iran has come from urbanized, educated, democracy advocates in the Iranian expat communities who are in close contact with university student activists in Iran.

If you’re simply trying to distance yourself from the Libertine Western label that Iran’s generals cleverly slapped on the university students, that’s understandable since Ahmadinejad’s victory. But writing huffy letters to American bloggers is not the way to convince Iran’s poor and the villagers that you’re their new best friend.

* From Iran Conference hosts doubters of Holocaust, The Washington Times

Tuesday, December 12

Israel agrees in principle to the Sunni Nuke

You knew this was coming, right? Before you head for a cave, it’s touted as a ploy to encourage the US and EU3 to get tougher in their negotiations with Iran about that country’s nuclear program. But of course if the ploy fails, they’ll be locked into building the nuke. Then al Qaeda will have something really fun to attack in Saudi Arabia. Money says that’s where the bomb will be bunkered.

Just another day in the news cycle, in what’s stacking up to be a psychedelic century:
Israel assays Sunni 'allies'
by Abraham Rabinovich
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
December 12, 2006
JERUSALEM -- Israeli officials yesterday quietly welcomed a decision by several Persian Gulf states to consider a nuclear energy program as evidence the region's Sunni Arab governments are becoming more open in their opposition to a common enemy--Iran.

While historically hostile to any step that could lead to an "Islamic" nuclear bomb, Israelis are weighing that risk against the possibility of an implicit alliance with neighboring Sunni Arab states that share their concerns about the prospect of a nuclear-armed Shi'ite Iran.

The Washington Times reported yesterday that Sunni-Shi'ite fighting in Iraq is already spilling over into the region, with elements in Saudi Arabia and Iran offering financial and other backing to competing Iraqi factions.

Leaders of six Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, ordered a feasibility study of a joint atomic energy program Sunday at the conclusion of a two-day summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Riyadh.

The oil-rich countries, all predominantly Sunni Arab states, made it clear that their declaration was intended to prod the West into stopping Shi'ite Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.

In Jerusalem, where authorities see an unspoken alliance taking shape between Israel and some Sunni states, officials said yesterday they viewed "positively" the increasing pressure from the Gulf states.

"This move is directed against Iran," an official who requested anonymity told the Jerusalem Post. "In the past, these states only talked about the Iranian nuclear issue using code words, but now they are coming out of the closet in a big way, and this is an example."

That assessment was echoed by Abdelaziz Sager, chairman of the Gulf Research Center in Dubai. "They are trying to say that if the Iranian program continues, [the West] will oblige us to become nuclear-capable too."

The GCC is made up of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman. Its statement said the GCC had commissioned a study "to set up a common program in the area of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes."

Iran also insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but it is widely assumed to be seeking nuclear weapons. Israeli officials say that non-Gulf Sunni nations, like Egypt and Jordan, share the GCC's concerns about Iran's nuclear program.

Israel has felt increasingly exposed to the Iranian nuclear threat as Europe and even the United States appear to be stepping back from a confrontation with Tehran, whose leaders have called for Israel's destruction. But it has been able to draw some comfort from the convergence of interests with the Sunni states, which are alarmed by the rise of a powerful Shi'ite "crescent" running from Iran through Iraq to the Hezbollah stronghold in southern Lebanon. [...]

Friday, December 8

Searching for General Sherman

God, we could use Sherman now, to advise us on the meaning of war and the will for victory. That's my only comment on the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group.

Click here for pithy quotes from General William Tecumseh Sherman on war and Washington politics.

Tuesday, December 5

The “Five Percent Solution” to America's military resourcing woes, and the need for civic education

“Greetings, Pundita:
I’m not going to ask what you think about what’s been leaked so far about the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations. When it comes to getting answers about the situation in Iraq, I feel as if I've pushed the elevator button and when the doors open there is just the shaft there. I don’t have the faith that what comes out of the commission will be a clear course for victory in Iraq. It does not seem they will recommend what is the most rational course of action, which is to put more troops in Iraq with a firm commitment to achieving victory there. Bush says he wants to win in Iraq, but he supported a defense secretary who was more concerned about pushing his ideas for modernizing the armed forces than about victory in Iraq.

So I guess I’m just writing to vent my anger and frustration. How far do you think our people will go toward betraying our commitment to the people we conquered and now plan to leave in ruins?
Claudia in Taos”

Dear Claudia:
I share your feelings, but the question is whether the US can marshal the resources needed to achieve a victory. I strongly recommend that you read the entire article, but here's the essence of the bottom line:
[…] as Andrew Krepinevich of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments has noted, America's military buildup has been "a hollow buildup," filled largely with funds for operations, maintenance, readiness, and health care--but not for the acquisition of new military systems or added manpower. […] To be sure, between FY 2000 and FY 2006, spending for planes, ships, and systems increased from $55 billion to $78 billion, and the Army's end strength was bumped up by 30,000 troops. Nevertheless, these increases are inadequate given the needs of the military, the wear and tear of war on both men and materiel, and the set of global responsibilities placed on the American military by existing treaty obligations and the strategic policies of the last two presidents. […]

Given the Bush team's campaign rhetoric in 2000 that "help [was] on the way" for the military, one might have expected the Bush administration to have substantially increased procurement spending. It has not. If the CBO estimate is taken as a baseline, the shortfall in spending from the Bush years now totals an additional $100 billion. And, for FY 2007, the defense procurement budget remains at just over $84 billion, below the $90 billion target suggested by the CBO. When inflation is taken into account, the shortfall is even larger in real terms.

Nor has there been much relief on the personnel front. From 1989 to 1999, military end strength was cut from 2.1 million to 1.4 million. For the Army in particular, this meant a dramatic reduction in the number of divisions--from eighteen to ten. As early as 1997, the House Armed Services Committee reported that the Army was being worn down by repeated deployments and that readiness levels were low and getting lower. Factor in two major wars, stabilization, counterterrorism, and counterinsurgency operations, and the marginal increase in Army manpower (approximately 30,000) in recent years is little more than a Band-Aid for what ails America's ground forces.
-- from Gary J. Schmitt’s Hollow Military 2.0, November 2006

I think those in the know and who support sending in more troops to Iraq, such as Senator John McCain, are aware that the call for such a deployment is the tip of the iceberg that Gary Schmitt writes about. Schmitt’s paper backs up what General Eric Shinseki observed even before the invasion of Iraq: the US military is under-resourced for the job it’s being asked to do in that country. But to up the resources to an adequate level calls for a civilian consensus on the need to increase military spending. As Schmitt observes:
Despite the fact that the country is at war, defense spending as a percentage of the national economy remains low relative to any set of years since World War II. Hence […] the U.S. economy is more than able to handle what needs to be spent on defense. That cost, moreover, like any investment, should be calculated based on the benefits it secures: success in Iraq, the defeat of the global jihadists, and deterrence of other hostile states would be an immense return on money spent. […] Dedicating 5 percent of the country's GDP -- a nickel on the dollar -- to defense is a wise investment.
When Jim Ellsworth of the US Naval War College sent me Schmitt’s article a few weeks ago I replied, “Iraq and Dem-GOP battles suck the oxygen out of the air, leaving little for very important stories such as this one.” It’s worth repeating his reply:

“Yup; ultimately so much gets back to the civic education issue […] We are in desperate need of intelligent discussion that weighs and assesses competing priorities, guided by a national strategy that needs to be developed in synch with a national conversation of its own.

"All of which requires an educated and informed citizenry that understands the importance of these discussions, has some degree of respect for the judgment/ analysis of the professionals who have spent entire careers studying these issues and pursuing solutions under administrations of both parties, possesses the information-gathering and critical thinking competencies to participate meaningfully in the conversation, and feels an obligation to do so grounded in a sense of civic duty.

"The latter seems to have been systematically bred out of our society over the last couple of generations by political and educational systems too ready (at both extremes of the political spectrum) to confuse patriotism and civic obligation with blind adherence to a particular point along that spectrum.”

Most Americans I’ve spoken with over the years say they want a US a victory in Iraq, whether or not they think victory can be achieved. However, several made it clear that they didn’t want their representatives in Congress to make politically unpopular decisions that wreak havoc on their political party, whether Dem or GOP, in order to gain victory.

War always wreaks havoc on politics in a democracy. Everybody knows that, but many Americans refuse to see Iraq as part of the war on terror. That’s their escape clause when they argue for quitting Iraq: We’re not actually betraying the Iraqis by pulling out because invading Iraq was not part of America’s defensive war against al Qaeda.

They argue that the invasion was simply an act of madness by an insane president. Ergo, the American people are absolved of responsibility toward the Iraqis. That kind of logic is dangerous sophistry, yet it's a tempting argument while the toll for American dead and wounded keeps rising.

Yet all the Iraqis ever asked of the United States in the situation was to please kindly restore a semblance of order, and keep the order while they built a functioning government from the ground up. For that, we need a lot more troops and funds, and equipment.

It does not take a general to observe that it's unwise to open a major theater in a war then say, "Well, this is turning out to be a more expensive proposition than we envisioned so we'll come up with a graceful exit."

There is no graceful exit in war; there is only victory, defeat, or truce. We are not up against a truce-making enemies, and unlike the Vietnamese when we quit Vietnam, our enemies can chase us back to our lair when they read our exit from Iraq as defeat.

Yet those Americans who argue for a graceful exit from a war theater we created are reasoning from the arrogance of a superpower nation. The arrogance easily lulls us into believing that we can survive a clear military defeat without undue consequences. This, despite the lesson of 9/11.

There is no way out of the war in Iraq for the United States except the path to victory. The problem is paying for the path.

Monday, December 4

Google Earth as a tool for democratic reform

The following article is crammed with instruction on several levels. The jaw dropper is the use that Bahrain’s democracy activists have made of Google Earth’s maps and satellite imagery. (I've bolded the relevant passages.)

It is mind-boggling to someone living in an advanced nation that the majority of another country's citizens don't even have an idea of how much land their country encompasses. That is another reason why we need to muster more patience when we look at our position in Iraq.

The article is also a warning on the need for the US to hack things out in Iraq and stick by the Bush Democracy Doctrine. While headlines in the US blare daily about the losing proposition for the US in Iraq, and self-proclaimed foreign policy ‘realists’ bail from a defense of democracy, Iraq’s democracy is seen as a singular achievement by the Middle Easterners who are struggling for more freedoms.

Also click on the Saudi Arabia link provided by The Washington Post and scroll to the heading Development of the Modern State for a crash course (or a refresher) on the shifting sands of Saudi alliances. The implications need to be kept in mind while analyzing the current situation in Iraq -- and Bahrain. The Saudis really don't like the idea of a Shiite Crescent.

As to how the election in Bahrain turned out, well -- worse than hoped for by the democracy activists but better than nothing. Naturally the Shiite opposition lost a bid to gain control of the parliament but they gained two seats during Saturday's runoff election.
In Bahrain, Democracy Activists Regret Easing of U.S. Pressure
By Faiza Saleh Ambah
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, November 27, 2006; Page A16
MANAMA, Bahrain, Nov. 26 -- Bahrain's government has touted parliamentary elections here as a model for regional reform and a milestone for democracy. But critics say the polls are similar to those in many Arab countries: designed to give the appearance of democracy while maintaining the government's tight grip on power.

Although many countries in the region have introduced various degrees of political participation, from limited municipal councils in Saudi Arabia to spirited parliaments in Kuwait and Yemen, the reforms have consistently fallen short of the freedoms democracy activists have sought.

The Bush administration, which said several years ago that greater democracy in the Middle East was a cornerstone of its foreign policy, has recently tempered its demands.

Democracy activists say that with the absence of strong grass-roots movements, Western pressure is the only remaining option that could force totalitarian governments to give up some of their power.

"The dictatorships in the region are the real winners of the shift in U.S. policy," said Sulaiman al-Hattlan, editor of Forbes Arabia. "They are not serious about reform and only respond to international pressure. They can easily repress their populations because they have total control of all state apparatuses."

Voters went to the polls Saturday in Bahrain, a tiny Gulf country ruled by the Sunni Muslim al-Khalifa family. Bahrain is the poorest oil-producing country in the region and the only one with a Shiite majority. Shiites make up 60 percent of the country's population of 700,000.

The government did not allow international observers to monitor the elections and appointed local government-affiliated groups for the job. Officials said 72 percent of the 300,000 eligible voters cast ballots.

Bahrain's main opposition groups boycotted the 2002 elections, the first in three decades, because political parties were banned and the power of the assembly had been diluted by the creation of a more powerful upper house appointed by the king.
When elections were announced again last year, activists said they had to choose between being left out of the political system or working within it.

"There are no democracies in the Arab world, apart from Iraq," said Sheik Ali Salman, a cleric and head of the largest opposition group, al-Wefaq National Islamic Society. But the runaway violence in Iraq has given Arab governments an excuse to scale back on political reform, he added.

"Authoritarian leaders will use any excuse not to give up power if they don't have to," said Salman, the country's most influential political leader and one of 16 al-Wefaq candidates to have won seats in the next assembly.

At a recent rally, Salman told the thousands of people who had come to hear him speak that his participation in the elections did not mean that he had disengaged from political activism. He promised that al-Wefaq would work to revoke laws, passed by the previous pro-government assembly, that curtail press freedoms and civil liberties.

"How can you arrest people distributing leaflets in the year 2006?" he asked, referring to the recent detention of two activists from Haq, an opposition group that boycotted the elections. "We call for their release."

Abduljalil al-Singace, a university professor and head of Haq, said he had felt the sting of the U.S. "change of heart" in actively supporting democracy in the region. Singace has visited Washington five times in the past two years to lobby members of Congress to press the Bahraini government for more democracy. The reception on the Hill, he said, has grown colder and colder.

Singace said he believed that the country's rulers have used the enmity between the United States and Iran to their advantage. Because of Bahraini Shiites' historical religious and social ties with neighboring Iran, the United States "was convinced by the regime that empowering Shiites here means empowering Iran," he said.
Haq boycotted the elections, he said, because the parliament is ineffectual. "Even if you win a majority of seats in parliament, you can't make any changes," Singace said, leaning on crutches because of a disability caused by polio when he was a child. "Whether you're a rabbit or a lion, entering that parliament is like entering a cage."

Bills initiated by the elected assembly must be approved by the appointed upper house and by the king himself.

At a polling station set up at the Jid Hafs Girls' Middle School, Sayed Mahmood, a 24-year-old telecommunications student, waited more than an hour to vote, in lines that snaked over a hundred yards. In a refrain echoed by many young men here, Mahmood said one of the biggest problems in Bahrain was the unequal distribution of land and wealth.

Mahmood, who lives in a house with his parents, four siblings and their children, said he became even more frustrated when he looked up Bahrain on Google Earth and saw vast tracts of empty land, while tens of thousands of mainly poor Shiites were squashed together in small, dense areas.

"We are 17 people crowded in one small house, like many people in the southern district," he said. "And you see on Google how many palaces there are and how the al-Khalifas have the rest of the country to themselves."

Bahraini activists have encouraged people to take a look at the country on Google Earth, and they have set up a special user group whose members have access to more than 40 images of royal palaces.
[emphasis added]

At a demonstration last week, human rights activist Nabeel Rajab stood on a sidewalk as thousands of people, including clerics, women and students, streamed by carrying large banners.

The protesters marched near the Rass Ruman mosque here in the capital, demanding that Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, in office since the early 1970s, leave his post. "Enough, Khalifa. Step down, step down, step down Khalifa," the crowd chanted.

"If the international media weren't here, the riot police would have been beating the demonstrators," said Rajab, who has documented police assaults on activists, including himself.

Rajab heads the banned Bahrain Center for Human Rights, which was shut down and its Web site was blocked after the group issued reports documenting widespread poverty and discrimination in government jobs.

But the government has accused the opposition of exaggerating and has said it is openly criticizing the government with impunity. "In a dictatorship you can't speak. In a democracy you can speak," said Information Minister Mohammed Abdul Ghaffar Abdulla. "We are in the process of democratization, and we are strengthening this process day by day."

Saturday, December 2

Felipe "Backdoor Johnny" Calderon needs to confront failures of Mexico's remittances system

In what was surely history's briefest inagural for a head of state, on Friday Felipe Calderon slipped into presidential office through a side door to avoid the hordes of protestors loyal to Lopez Obrador, who still claims to be Mexico's rightful president.

It's said that what Calderon lacks in charisma he makes up for with tenacity. He'll need all the grit he can muster to prevent a war between Mexico's ruling class and the poverty-stricken -- the latter making up 40 percent of the population.

Signs of the looming war can be seen in Mexico's southern city of Oaxaca, which has seen violent protests during the past few months, and which have claimed several lives.

Calderon's course is clear: he's to do the dirty work that outgoing President Vicente Fox avoided:
Among Calderon's first challenges may be confronting Mexico's privileged business elite -- seen by many as the pillar of his support base but which benefits from tax and regulatory breaks that economists say squeeze ordinary Mexicans with high prices for basic services.(1)
But unless Calderon reverses the "Let them eat remittances" approach to job creation in Mexico ("You go work in America, then send back part of your salary to make up for the lack of an adequate tax base here"), Mexico's ruling class will continue to stave off paying their fair share in taxes. And the impetus for job creation in Mexico will continue to be dampened

The biggest problem is that the remittances system is supported by the IMF, the World Bank, China, leaders in Brussels, the US Congress, the US presidential administration, the US Department of State, every think tank that wants to do business in Washington, and US stateside businesses that profit from dirt-cheap Mexican labor.

Never has such a crummy economics idea received so much support from so many in power in the Western Hemisphere. So there is an Emperor's New Clothes aspect to the political support for remittances in Mexico.

The naked reality is that since Mexico's remittances system has been formalized and promoted by Fox's government, Mexico's poorest have remained locked into poverty. The poverty was not created by the remittances system, but the system has made the situation resistant to change.

Governments pushing remittances in Mexico (and other countries with Mexico's basic problems) refuse to see where a remittances system leads. It leads to blood in the streets. It's already happened in Mexico. All over the country, escalated gang warfare and police corruption have claimed uncounted lives. And the unrest in Oaxaca is just a prelude, unless Calderon's government finds a way to make millions of jobs.

So while they tear out their hair about the rise of the hard Left and hire more security guards to protect their families, Mexico's power brokers continue to insist that remittances are just the ticket.

For more on the downsides of the (formalized, government-backed) remittances system, See the April 2005 Pundita post Mexico: Truth, lies, and damning statistics. Not much has changed since I published the post except that the US Eastern Establishment media were forced to find Mexico on a map because of the uproar about immigration.

1) From The Washington Post 2 December issue, Page A-8

Friday, December 1

Logistics and the nation-state

“Pundita, you mentioned Robert D. Kaplan in your post about tribalism and nationalism. I wonder if you have ever read his article, The Coming Anarchy. It was published in 1994 but remains relevant. He addresses many important issues related to defense and foreign policy including the impact of environmental scarcity on defense strategy.

I would be interested in your view of Kaplan’s claim that the two-dimensional mapping of nations fails to reflect the current reality of population movements that do not recognize borders, and that the notion of the nation-state does not really apply outside the West.
Leticia in Seville”

Dear Leticia:
Thank you for bringing the article to my attention; it is very well researched and I agree that Kaplan puts forward several important arguments, whether or not one agrees with his conclusions. He crams an incredible amount of information into the article and in the most beautifully written fashion -- verging on lyrical.

I printed out the article as a Word document; for readers who want to do the same, the passages that Leticia refers to start on page 17 under the subheading, The Lies of Mapmakers. The following paragraphs don’t do justice to Kaplan’s full argument but they’re good enough for my purpose:
In his book Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Benedict Anderson, of Cornell University, demonstrates that the map enabled colonialists to think about their holdings in terms of a “totalizing classificatory grid. […] It was bounded, determinate, and therefore -- in principle -- countable.” To the colonialist, country maps were the equivalent of an accountant’s ledger books. Maps, Anderson explains, “shaped the grammar” that would make possible such questionable concepts as Iraq, Indonesia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria.

[…] The state, recall, is a purely Western notion, one that until the twentieth century applied to countries covering only three percent of the earth’s land area. Nor is evidence compelling that the state, as a governing ideal, can be successfully transported to areas outside the industrialized world. […]
Counting is not only the basis of accounting. It’s also the basis of logistics, on which civilization is built. The very challenges to civilization that Kaplan starkly warns about -- environmental scarcity, crime, overpopulation, and disease -- can only be met by governments efficiently delivering services to their populations. To put it another way, if the nation-state didn’t exist, a modern procurement specialist would invent it.

Think of adequate government in this era of big human populations as boxes inside of boxes: If you want to serve the people, first you need to find out how many people you’re talking about serving. For that you have to slap citizenship and a census on people. For that, you need to define your borders.

Then you have to tax the people you count. For that, you have to figure a way of collecting taxes. Then you have to deliver services with the taxes you take in. It’s at the point of services delivery that weak governments break down.

But the way is forward, not back. Just because nomadic tribes, international crooks, and guerrilla armies don’t honor borders is no reason to go along with them. Their way of doing things is lousy at providing services except within narrow bounds; e.g, dock widening to accommodate contraband ships.

Of course many modern national borders are tragically irrational, as Kaplan argues very well. Just look at the way Korea was carved up, or at the creation of Iraq and Iran. But if you stay focused on the issue of logistics in the deployment of government services, you’ll realize that dispensing with the nation-state is not the solution to the problem.

And of course the idea of good government is not a Western concept; nor it is it the exclusive province of industrialization. It’s all about getting stuff, people and services from point A to many different points on a grid. The only efficient way to do that in the era of megapopulations is to establish limits on where the deliveries will be made; i.e., establish and maintain borders.

Now one can argue that national governments are not the only ones handling the delivery of services during any era, including this one. Kaplan writes:
Like the borders of West Africa, the colonial borders of Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Algeria, and other Arab states are often contrary to cultural and political reality. As state control mechanisms wither in the face of environmental stress, “hard” Islamic city-states or shantytown-states are likely to emerge.
Point taken but now think of the shantytown of Sadr City. Think of the money that is siphoned by the militia guarding the city -- money that does not go to basic services, such as garbage collection, for the residents.

The general rule is that the smaller the area of turf in a heavily populated region, the more funds have to be diverted from basic services to defending the turf. This truth is so evident that all you have to do is keep repeating it until it sinks in with the residents of the shantytowns. Then the only route for the crooked cops, militias, or gangs that control the turf is oppression: expending yet more funds to prevent the residents from revolting.

As to the city-state, generally it's built on one export such as oil, or one service such as banking or money laundering. The city owes its existence to one commodity. If the commodity fails, poof goes the city-state. So I don’t foresee future city-states as serious competition to the nation-state.

Most importantly, the shantytowns and city-states can’t carry their fair share of providing global aid. This is a crucial issue for the 21st Century. As Kaplan points out, and as Hurricane Katrina amply illustrated, no human population is insulated from environmental disasters that put a huge strain on a regional government’s finances.

The future for humanity, for a long time to come, is an aid version of the rolling blackout to preserve electricity. As the impact of global warming deepens, nations will be turning out their pockets and sharing even more the burden of providing ‘rolling aid’ rescues for populations all over the world.

Again, logistics play a huge role in such rescues -- as do the census, tax collection, and map coordinates. You can’t deliver significantly helpful aid to a region unless you have an idea of how many people are affected by a disaster and where to reach them.

The governments in the poorer nations need to be strengthened so that they can participate more, and more efficiently, in providing internal and external aid in times of disaster.

Many might observe that while my heart’s in the right place, Kaplan’s article tells it like it is. But humanity did not get out of the trees by saying, “Sleeping on a branch is the way things are for us.”

We have to struggle; understand? If the nation-state is not working well for a population, then it has to be made to work because it's the best means for serving a large population. If the nation-state is not the best means for preserving clan affiliations or ancient nomadic traditions, that’s too damn bad for tradition because there are now just so many of us to worry about. We have to keep repeating that observation and acting on it, until those who are deaf unplug their ears.

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