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Wednesday, October 31

North Korea: starting a long journey in from the cold, or just another feint?

From Chosunilbo today:
New tones of engagement with the international community are emerging from North Korea's official and quasi-official media. Articles stress North Korea "in the world", "international economic relations", and "the need to respect rules in international relations."

Improvements in the hermit country's external relations are being touted as nothing short of "epoch-making."

North Korea experts read this as laying the psychological groundwork either for improving relations with the U.S. or for economic development through attracting massive foreign investment. [...]
Then there is this Reuters report from earlier in the month:
China has reduced rail freight traffic to North Korea in recent weeks, holding up some shipments of humanitarian aid to the impoverished country, an aid agency and rail authorities said on Friday. The move was apparently taken in anger over Chinese rail cars going missing in North Korea, where analysts say they are sometimes disassembled and sold as scrap metal.

“A lot of Chinese rail cars have piled up in North Korea and have not come back,” said an official in the cargo division of China’s Railways Bureau in Dandong, the Chinese border city through which most freight to North Korea passes. “So on this side, we reduced the number of rail cars going to North Korea,” said the official, who declined to be identified.
This is not the first time Chinese transport for food aid has gone missing in North Korea. Korea expert Joshua Stanton tries to make sense of the latest absurd case of hand-biting:
It would be easy to read too much into this. After all, this is probably more the result of Kim Jong Il losing control over his own society and economy than a scheme to rip the Chinese off for the price of scrap metal. Still, it’s hard to imagine how Kim Jong Il, who presumably has enough manpower to guard large steel objects, let things get to this point. Nor can we rule out any course of North Korean action merely because it happens to be irrational. It may be time for a few more us to simply admit that we aren’t equipped with the mentality required to understand or predict North Korean behavior. [...]
So now, we wait on events.

Tuesday, October 30

Pundita has not been kidnapped by aliens

"Pundita! Where are you? Are you okay? You always put up little notes when you're away but there's no note! Are the dark forces taking revenge because you mocked them? I hope you haven't been kidnapped by aliens. BTW if you can read this have you given up on Burma?
Sleepless in St. Louis"

Dear Sleepless:
I thought you'd stopped listening to Coast to Coast. Pundita is okay. I will be posting this evening late or tomorrow morning around 8:00 AM. I have been following the Burma situation very closely but it's as clear as mud.

Friday, October 26

The Devil doesn't wear Prada

"Pundita, dear, tell me Ping! was your Halloween essay, else I will be scared out of my wits that it contained foreign policy advice.

What gives me shivers is that once before you invoked Bill and Ted in a conversation about evil. I don't recall you ever actually explained the mystery of the strange assassination attempt you stopped.[*] Your answer to a frightened reader [in Footsteps in the Dark] only deepened the mystery.

Is there perhaps a hidden meaning in "pebbles" and your telling us not to fear death in the name of -- what? Forming a pattern so a demon slayer might finally notice our plight with Iran?
Boris in Jackson Heights"

Dear Boris:
The last movie I saw in the theater was "The Devil Wears Prada." I found the film remarkable in that it revealed a world that seemed untouched by the war. On the other end of the spectrum there are people such as John Loftus, who fought a lonely battle for decades in the attempt to warn about the threat from Islamic terrorists and Arab Nazism. Even today, many Americans are unaware that our government looked the other way as MI5 and the CIA set about transforming Arab Nazis into terrorists -- the very terrorists who plague us today. And many don't want to hear Loftus talk about about events long past. Then they wonder why God hasn't intervened to smite an army of terrorists.

The situation is complex; there were reasons why secret services in two countries supported Arab Nazis. Remember the threat from the Soviet Union. When things are complex you pretty much have to wait for the systems guys to act -- unless you prefer God smiting everyone in sight. This doesn't mean we should stand around while waiting, for the more we can help to point up a pattern, the quicker the system underpinning the pattern reveals itself to one and all.

But things are indeed pretty bad when the activist equivalent of throwing a pebble at a bulldozer brings down the wrath of the secret police and gets one before a firing squad or much worse. Why, in Burma just scrawling the word 'freedom' on a wall can be a death sentence for the graffiti artist and his family. In Afghanistan a girl can be murdered by her father for attempting to get an education.

Yet such things have always been going on; it's just that they are harder to accept today, when so many people live in freedom and relative security. Such people can make a lot of demands on government to 'do something' and many ask, "Where is God?"

From there it's a hop and skip to brooding about evil. From there it's short drop to feeling very small, helpless and fearful -- or deciding to make war on evil.

So sometimes Pundita applies the hair of the dog, so to speak, by way of warning some impatient readers. If you want to battle evil, you need to enter the realm of evil. There you will stumble across men and women very much like John Constantine. But chances are overwhelming you will end up like Constantine's eager young apprentice -- the one who figured a way to blast a few demons to smithereens. This only attracted the attention of a more powerful demon, who killed the boy with one blow. As he lay dying he said, "It's not like in the books, is it?"

"No, it's not like in the books," replied Constantine.

Better to get crushed while hurling pebbles at the wheels of the juggernaut than to embark on the path of a demon slayer. Better to die with the faith that sooner or later the systems guys will right whatever's out of whack in the realms of good and evil. Better that, than the knowledge that evil will take revenge across countless lifetimes if you win even one battle against it. Few among us are constituted for such a way of existence.

So while waiting for God, the government, and the systems guys to do something you can make yourself useful in ways that don't lead you into the forest -- where Pundita will be waiting to scare you back to the main road.

* I'd say "warned about" is closer than "stopped."

Thursday, October 25

Ping!

Whereupon the half angel Gabriel knocks John Constantine flat on his back and, placing her foot on his neck, lectures him on why she is unleashing the Son of Satan on humankind:

Gabriel: You're handed this precious gift, right? Each one of you granted redemption from the Creator - murderers, rapists, molesters - all of you just have to repent, and God takes you into His bosom. In all the worlds and all the universe, no other creature can make such a boast, save man. It's not fair. If sweet, sweet God loves you so, then I will make you worthy of His love. But it's only in the face of horror that you truly find your noble self, and you can be so noble. So -- I will bring you pain, I will bring you horror.

Constantine: [raising his head off the floor to study the ultimate God groupie] Gabriel, you're insane.

* * * * * * * *
Bill and Ted challenge Death to a variety of games including Battleship, Clue, and Twister, all of which Bill and Ted win.
* * * * * * * *

It is said that "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey" is a loose parody of "The Terminator" movie, but Bill and Ted was made before the last Terminator, which finds the machines victorious over humankind.

Anyone who has followed Keanu Reeves's movie career from Bill and Ted onward -- cross off "Speed" and various silly attempts to make him a romantic lead -- knows that if Keanu rather than Arnold Schwarzenegger had played the Terminator, the machines would have lost. The director would have looked at Keanu's portrayal of the Terminator cyborg and said, 'We have to change the script.' (Of course in that event -- following the plot forward or backward in time -- there would have been no Terminator.)

Keanu's greatest roles have been men who figure out that no system, no matter how powerful, is infallible and that forgetting this allows seemingly invincible evil to arise. Whether as John Constantine outwitting Gabriel by setting both God and Satan against her, as the Buddha provoking the Lord of Illusion into revealing his entire bag of tricks, or as Neo Anderson patiently setting up a war between machines and a ghost in their software, Keanu's characterizations save humankind again and again from the worst effects of sleepwalking.

I thought of those characters last night while contemplating a recent photograph of Aung San Suu Kyi, who now looks more wraith than human, holding onto life by the thread of steel resolve to resist Burma's oppressors.

I thought of them again later that night, while listening to John Loftus interview an Egyptian-American human rights activist, Dr. Robert Mikhail, who recounted the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt.

John's radio show is not for those who wish to fall to sleep at night while listening to something pleasant. Over the weeks since I've been tuning in regularly, the show is a parade of nobodies hurling pebbles at what John Loftus clearly sees as the juggernaut of our age: a merciless clanking machine made of indifference and double-dealing by the economic powers, repressive governments that profit from the deals, and filthy-rich Muslims wedded to the insane idea that God is an emperor who must be pandered to.

The night before last, Loftus interviewed a Saudi-American who is fighting for human rights in Saudi Arabia, and the night before he spoke with an Iranian woman fighting for women's rights in Iran. Rich Barlow was a guest last week -- the poor fool who tried to take his employer, the US government, to task for helping Pakistan get the Bomb.

Of course, the keepers of the engine eventually notice the pebble pings, then the nobodies get wiped out or somehow silenced -- sent off to live in a trailer park, in Barlow's case. But eventually more nobodies arise and pick up a handful of pebbles. Ping! Ping!

And this goes on and on, until one of the pebble throwers turns out to be someone like John Constantine. Then things right themselves for a time, then we fall asleep again, then come the pebble throwers and people like Auntie Suu and John Loftus, whose sinew and bones are Resolve.

World Without End, Amen. But where is your pebble pouch?

Tuesday, October 23

Crisis in Turkey

Dave Schuler is keeping his "Glittering Eye" on Turkey; his latest post outlines proposals for defusing the situation with the PKK.

Pundita also advises readers to visit Iraq Slogger for updates on what Iraq's press is saying about the crisis.

Crying "Fire!" in a crowded world: California wildfires

2002
Fire Wars narrator: "What remains is a paradox: our efforts to control fire have actually made conditions worse, setting the stage for larger, more catastrophic wildfires than ever before."

October 22, 2007
"Like a scene out of War of the Worlds, traffic northbound on Interstate 5 from Oceanside to San Juan Capistrano was packed with cars and trucks loaded with belongings as people headed to relative safety to the north, black clouds of smoke darkening the sky behind them.

"The fire is everywhere in San Diego now. You don't know where you can go to escape it."

"The issue this time is not preparedness," San Diego City Council President Scott Peters said. "It's that the event is so overwhelming."(1)
October 23, 2007
San Diego officials said they were so overwhelmed by the size and number of fires that they initially couldn't get an accurate count of how many homes had been destroyed. They fear the fires may be worse than a 2003 blaze that caused $1.1 billion in damage, destroying 4,847 structures.

"We've never seen anything like this. The fires are coming at us from all angles in the worst possible weather conditions," said San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders.

"The fires are really spreading very rapidly," said Neena Saith, an analyst at Risk Management Solutions in London, which models disasters for insurers, in a telephone interview. "In terms of the numbers of homes damaged, we're looking at it being in the top-five events in California history."(2)
The California fires are the story of the week; everything else pales in comparison to the horror of a major American city, in one of the most important economic regions in the world, laid siege by wildfires.

Three days into watching the unfolding catastrophe in southern California, I recalled NOVA's Fire Wars and its terrible warnings. Here are a few excerpts from the documentary:
NARRATOR: So far, in the year 2000, fires have consumed almost three million acres, a million more than an average season. They've burned down hundreds of buildings and forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate. More and more Americans are building homes near wilderness areas. Few are prepared to share their property with fire.

NEIL SAMPSON: Most of the time those of us that move out into the countryside don't realize we're in a fire environment because we've never seen a fire there. Fires have been suppressed there for a very, very long time. There's not a person out there that has a memory of a large fire. So in everybody's mind, this is not a fire environment. It hasn't burned.

STEVE PYNE: What we've done is take sort of the two extreme values of American environmentalism, the city and the wild. We're ramming them together and it's sort of matter and anti-matter collision, and, uh, we shouldn't be surprised that it's exploding.

NARRATOR: Even in an environment where wildfire is natural and inevitable, homeowners still expect the government to protect them at almost any cost. One way to do this is regular prescribed burning. But prescribed fires are risky, too, as Los Alamos learned earlier this year. And there's another downside to prescribed fire, smoke.

NEIL SAMPSON: If we use a lot of fire, we may discomfort an awful lot of people, because the smoke and the air pollution is a real problem. So, it's not, uh, a harmless situation. It may be natural, but it's not harmless.

NARRATOR: Time and again, communities limit prescribed burning because of smoke, leaving themselves more vulnerable to wildfire.

WOMAN AT BUS STOP : The most traumatic was having a policeman come to my door and say, pack up your things, decide what you think is important and get ready to leave. The fire came racing down the mountain. I've heard firefighters say that they've fought fires for 25 years and they've never seen a fire race down a mountain like that. It's so dry. [...]

NARRATOR: Whether from prescribed fire or wildfire, there will be smoke. Here in the northern Rockies, only a few hours from Clear Creek, a dozen other big fires are burning. A thick, choking haze lies like a blanket over the region, so wide and dense it can be seen from space.

And smoke is more than an inconvenience for nearby residents. It's a key factor in global warming—how much so is one of the biggest questions in fire science today. [...]

NARRATOR: One purpose of Frostfire is to find out how forest fires contribute to global warming, the gradual increase in the earth's temperature that scientists have observed. So firefighters have cut eight miles of fireline around this entire valley and plan to burn all 2200 acres. [...]

Many scientists believe global warming is connected with the levels of carbon gasses in the air. Carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and methane, the "greenhouse" gasses, are released by burning fossil fuels and forests. All living things contain carbon, and one third of the earth's carbon is found in these northern forests—some in the trees, more frozen in the "permafrost," the icy subsoil.

DAVID V. SANDBERG: Permafrost exists in this environment with an average temperature of about one degree below freezing all year round. So it doesn't take much in terms of either warming the soil or removing this insulating layer of duff before that melts. And if that melts a tremendous change will happen here.

NARRATOR: If the permafrost melts, huge volumes of greenhouse gasses will be released. This could speed global warming, causing more forest fires. More fires would release still more gasses, fueling a dangerous spiral of climate change and fire.

DAVID V. SANDBERG: This is the layer that really counts. It's where the carbon is. It's where the insulation for the permafrost layer is. So we want a good severe burn that burns down into this duff and moss layer, but one that's controllable and manageable. We've been planning this thing for 10, 15 years. And this is the first chance that we've really seen a condition when we should really get the kind of burn that'll, that'll tell us something.

NARRATOR: Burn day: the scientists and the firefighters are ready.

DAVE DASH (Frostfire burn boss): This is the time for everybody to pay attention and to please follow instructions.

NARRATOR: Dave Dash is the burn boss on Frostfire, the man who decides if conditions are right for the experiment. He has to be sure the 100 firefighters on this burn can keep it under control, and he has to get the right kind of fire for the scientists.

FIREFIGHTER GIBBS: What do you think the winds are?

NARRATOR: Everything has to be perfect: wind, temperature, humidity.

FIREFIGHTER GIBBS: ...equals 72 percent humidity.

NARRATOR: If not, Frostfire could be postponed for another whole year.

DAVID V. SANDBERG: We're this close. It's closer than we've ever been, but we've...it's got to get 10 or 12 degrees warmer before we're in prescription.

FIREFIGHTER GIBBS: I.C.P., this is Gibbs with the weather.

I.C.P.: Go ahead.

FIREFIGHTER GIBBS: We have a dry bulb of 55, wet bulb of 50. Relative humidity is 72 percent.

DAVE DASH: Okay, let's do the burn.

MAN: Narrow your strip up a little bit between you and Emily.

VOICES: Spot! Spot!

LAURA BIANCA [firefighter]: Too much line.

DAVE DASH: We've been burning two hours, twenty minutes. It's smoky when the wind turns the wrong way, but we've been pretty lucky with the winds, so far. So...

DAVID V. SANDBERG: It's a little weak, but it's going to do the job for today. I think it is ...

DAVE DASH: How far down to the bottom are you? Or how far from the bottom?

VOICE ON RADIO: Well, let me just swing around and tell you. It looks like the column is on...close to 6,000 or so...

DAVE DASH: I would think that through today they'd have enough, that they could get what they were looking for, but...

DAVID V. SANDBERG: It's going wonderful for us. We just got through burning in one of the key research areas and we've got several more to go. But at this point it's hard to go wrong.

NARRATOR: The day after the burn the scientists are hard at work, measuring the fire's severity and recording its effects.

BOB VIHNANEK (U.S.D.A. Forest Service Research): We have pins in the ground, which...you can see one sticking up right here. Those were placed flush with the forest floor material before the burn, and so what is exposed is the area that's, that's burned.

DAVID V. SANDBERG: The bulk of the work is done by hand measurements of every component of the biomass system.

ROGER D. OTTMAR (U.S.D.A. Forest Service Research): ...seventy-two millimeters. It looks like it was a very high intensity burn, but for a very short duration period.

NARRATOR: The results show that this short burn has released 10 tons of potent greenhouse gasses. Multiply this by the thousands of wildfires that burn every year and the answer is frightening.

NEIL SAMPSON: I estimated that in the year 2000 with the fires that were in the 11 western states, that we may have released the equivalent of 75 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere through the carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and methane that was released. So this is a really, really difficult problem. [...]
Now go back to the beginning, and read NOVA's history of how America came to declare war on wildfires -- and the "paradoxical" results.

1) Southern California's ring of wildfires, Inside Bay Area

2) California's wind-drive fires char 356,000 acres, Bloomberg

Monday, October 22

Copyright Squad doesn't like proud mothers, either

While catching up with doings at Riehl World View I noticed this post titled Fox News Doesn't Like Blog People. Dan Riehl published a copy of a 'violation of copyright letter' sent him about his posting of a link to a YouTube clip. Dan's response was gentlemanly, but web users are starting to fight back against copyright takedown notices that are clearly over the top.

Stephanie Lenz sued Universal Music Publishing Group, after the company told YouTube to take down a 29 second video of her baby bouncing to a Prince song.

Israel Bombing Raid on Syria Affair

The Malibu wildfires preempted regular Sunday programming on KFI in Los Angeles, which meant John Batchelor's show was bumped, and technical problems at WABC shortened John's Sunday show in New York to 90 minutes. If you cast out the segments on Antarctica, Politics of Heaven, and the riveting discussion of the credit crunch and Citibank's problems, the rest could be dubbed the Very Odd Show.

Yes, very odd indeed, the Bhutto assassination attempt, the Olmert assassination plot, and Israel's bombing in Syria. Batchelor mentioned the last at the very end of the show, saying strongly that he "didn't like" all the reports he'd heard about the reasons for the bombing.

So there might be sparks tonight when Batchelor co-hosts the John Loftus Report, given that Loftus seems to be sticking to one of the more prevalent reports, which is that the bombing raid was to take out a nuke facility.

The second half of Loftus's show will feature nuclear arms control expert Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, who on October 18 presented this interesting factoid:
Yongbyon is a sensational reference point from a news perspective, but the North Korean reactor is itself derived from the Calder Hall magnox reactors developed by Britain. Comparing the Syrian reactor to Yongbyon, without mentioning Calder Hall, leaves the reader thinking the reactor design could not have been supplied by any another state and was certainly not indigenous.

But Syria might have chosen the Calder Hall design for the same reasons as North Korea — the reactor is a relatively simple design that is extensively described in the open literature and does not require difficult to acquire heavy water or enriched uranium.


Read more.
However, all this is neither here nor there, when it comes to parsing announcements and speculations about why Israel bombed Syria.

Pundita doesn't like the reports, either, although I'm falling back on instinct rather than any facts I've uncovered. Facts in this affair are very hard to come by. Yet the very odd story takes on fresh importance in light of Vice President Dick Cheney's remarks on Sunday. Cheney's observations about Iran were in many ways an echo of statements he made about Iraq two months prior to the US invasion.

The Loftus Report airs on Talkline Communications radio from about 11:00 PM to 12 PM eastern time. The show can also be heard live on the internet via a link at Talkline. I see that Talkline still hasn't gotten around to listing Loftus's show in their schedule.)

If you have trouble with the Talkline streaming link, you can try the link at The Loftus Report or John Batchelor Show websites.

Pundita not feeling well

But will have a post up within the hour about Israel's bombing raid in Syria.

Thursday, October 18

Note

If you read the following post before 1:40 PM EDT, please see the update at the end of the post. And a note to "JL" -- yes, it does seem the rumor is incorrect that Gambari was including Burma in his Asia tour. In any case, he hopes to return to Burma in November.

No to mission drift

If I fiddled with the following letter to a friend I suppose it would read better and might even become a proper essay. But I'm still embroiled in a heated debate, which leaves me no time for polishing text:

Keep your eye on the ball. Whether in Burma or Iraq's Kurdish north, the US must walk a fine line when pushing the American model of democratization, else we stumble into the George Soros model for dealing with threats to globalization: balkanization, whereby the world is chopped into so many small antagonistic territories that transnational investors and companies don't have to deal with powerful national governments.

The Soros model leads the world straight back to tribalism. Yet the inevitable backlash, as we see in China and Burma and many other countries, is brutal repression of minorities and democracy. Of course Soros doesn't care because his objective is easily navigable national borders, not democracy.

That is why I shied away from the satellite imagery story in Burma. As soon as I saw that Soros's Open Society was involved in the satellite project, I asked, "Now what is that shark up to in Burma?"

Watch carefully, don't blink:
The Bush administration lists Burma as a country that has “failed demonstrably” to adhere to international counter-narcotics agreements.It is true that drug traffickers exert a powerful influence in favor of the relatively tolerant status quo [in Burma]. But the government claims emphatically that it is cracking down on drugs, and has even vowed to make the country opium-free by 2014. Opium poppy cultivation has dropped 83 percent since 1998, an achievement for which the military regime feels it has gotten no credit from the West.

Insurgent groups in the east have been responsible for much of the drug cultivation problem, the Burmese government points out. Indeed, more than 90 percent of opium poppy production in Burma takes place in Shan state, part of the “Golden Triangle” border area with Thailand and China, where insurgent groups have a bloody history of fighting for autonomy from the central government."(1) [emphasis mine]
In other words, it is devilishly hard to demonstrate that the junta is carrying out genocide, which unfortunately includes in its definition the INTENT to destroy a particular group -- something about the G term that many people don't know.

Burma's junta can argue quite effectively that their intent is not to slaughter the Shan but to halt a separatist insurgency and stop opium traffiking.

Indeed, that's why people who have dedicated their lives to halting government orchestrated mass murder of populations have begun shying away from the use of the word genocide as spelled out in the Genocide Convention; it's because intention is so very difficult to prove in many cases.

The Holocaust and Rwanda were very clearly genocide, but beyond that it can get fuzzy when hauled into a court of law. So the activists are falling back on "mass atrocities" and similar terms, even when they suspect genocide.

If you want to learn more about this very crucial issue from a leading expert, read the address by Gareth Evans titled Halting Genocide: Intervention and Legitimacy

To return to the main discussion, the Kurdish situation constantly threatens to derail the US mission in Iraq. No matter how good an ally the Kurds, they must remember that it was the US, not they, who toppled Saddam's regime. Iraq's Kurd government needs to sit hard on the PKK -- and on the Iranian version of the group, the acronym for which escapes me at the moment.

We cannot let go of our mission in Iraq or the democracy project. Iraq's Kurd government in Iraq needs to accept that they are Kurds second and Iraqis first. The US has no place pandering to tribalism anywhere in the world, but especially in Iraq.

I will grant that sometimes the choices involved in promoting democracy can be very hard indeed, but that is just why we need to keep to our mission statement for the democracy project.

Iran is constantly trying to undermine the US democracy project in Iraq -- and because of the separatist issue in Iraq's north, they have found an ally of sorts in Turkey. We cannot allow them to drag us into a war that threatens to derail the US mission in Iraq.

After much bloodshed and oceans of money, the US is finally making real headway in Iraq. The Iraqis are learning that it's better to fight on the political front than to descend into tribal warfare and civil war. We must focus on that lesson, build on it -- and remember Iran's true objective, which is to bury the hope for a vibrant democracy in Iraq.

And we must look to our supply lines in Turkey and Basra. The last thing we need at this moment is for a slowing of vital supplies due to a war breaking out between Iraq's Kurds and Turkey. Tehran would not hesitate to capitalize on the chaos by making a huge amount of trouble in Iraq's south, thereby catching the US military's supply lines in a pincer movement.

I know my view is very hard for you to entertain because your focus has always been Iran. I understand. You need to recall that the United States has sacrificed much in the effort to teach Iraqis that there is another way to settle their disputes -- a way that does not automatically bring forth another oppressive ruler. There is now a snowballing effect to all our years of struggle in Iraq. We must let nothing derail the progress.

As to the rest -- all in good time, but remember that a democratic Iraq is the best weapon we would have against the oppressive regime in Iran, just because the border between the two countries is so porous. Many Iranians are visiting Iraq and bringing back the news: There is another way.

1) Foreign Policy: The List: Burma's economic lifelines
* * * * * * * * *
1:40 P.M. edt UPDATE
"Pundita, your comments about Soros's involvement with the Burma satellite imagery project give way too much meaning to the shark money angle in this context. The AAAS [American Association for the Advancement of Science] is a ferocious organization. See their part in the Burma satellite imagery project.

The satellite photos demand investigation. This is a seam opened; the junta can run but they can't hide from the photos.

Granted, the term "genocide" is not needed right now, but there are lots of important questions to be asked about the satellite photos; for example, just what happened to the people and houses that disappeared when the villages disappeared?"

Dear Reader:
Your points are well taken, and I did not mean to disparage the AAAS effort. However, one must be very careful in using the images to build a case for genocide in Burma. One can easily fall into a wrangle over the meaning of "genocide" while Burma's junta gets off Scot free.

Better to cut the ground out from under their feet by arguing that democracy is the solution to the separatist problem. Remember: even the members of the Burma regime most sympathetic to the plight of the citizens are convinced that a military government is all that prevents Burma from falling into numerous warring territories. We must change their mind; at this moment in their history that is much more crucial than trying to drag them to the ICC.

There is something else we must not overlook. The Soros model converges perfectly with the model of government favored by al Qaeda. The latter envisions a collection of weak tribes and clans overseen by the Caliphate's army and all-powerful secret police.

It can be hard to remember in the heat and dust of war with Qaeda and our struggle with Iran, but the greatest enemy today is tribalism. Nationhood is a very imperfect solution to the problem of governing megapopulations, yet it's an infinitely greater step toward freedom and human rights than tribal government.

Tuesday, October 16

Now more than ever the Democracy Agenda, not the Dignity Agenda

David Ignatius's The Dignity Agenda op-ed reads like the foreign policy version of the argument that your teenager won't like you if he has to hear lectures about avoiding dope.
Dignity is the issue that vexes billions of people around the world, not democracy. Indeed, when people hear President Bush preaching about democratic values, it often comes across as a veiled assertion of American power. The implicit message is that other countries should be more like us -- replacing their institutions, values and traditions with ours. We mean well, but people feel disrespected. The bromides and exhortations are a further assault on their dignity.
As any Burmese monk or Egyptian democracy activist could tell David, nothing is more undignified than having to sit in a puddle of your own urine while being tortured by the secret police.

From Africa to the Middle East to Latin America to Asia, those fighting oppression are upset with the United States, all right. But they're upset because our government's words about democracy and actions often clash, or because America does not render more help in their fight for freedom.

Ignatius should remember that 9/11 did not have its roots in Osama bin Laden's wet dream about reestablishing the Caliphate. It was rooted in Ayman al-Zawahiri's unrelenting fury that America supported an oppressive Egyptian leader because he made peace with Israel.

Ignatius should remember the ultimate reason the US had to get embroiled in Iraq: because our government listened to the author of the Dignity Agenda, Zbigniew Brzezinski. Does Ignatius not recall the infamous Green Belt? Doesn't he realize that Brzezinski looked at the Persians and Arabs of the Middle East as mere pieces on a geostrategic chess board? Does he not remember how the US supported Saddam's tyranny, as a means to keep Iran off balance and hedge against Soviet designs in the Middle East?

What kind of person thinks of other humans as chess pieces? Someone who has descended to the thinking of a ghoul. The Cold War turned many policy advisors into ghouls when they gained the ear of Washington. Brzezinski was one such advisor. If he's now trying to salve his conscience by trumpeting human dignity, it's a little late in the day.

And I find it hard to believe that Ignatius would fall for such shoddy reasoning, and which so easily sells out on humanity. The standard for dignity, by Ignatius's admission, is a highly subjective concept that reads differently in different cultures. The standard for democratic government, on the other hand, is highly objective and thus, can be understood by anyone.

Of course if one has nothing else under tyranny but one's cultural practices, the concept of dignity must be stuffed into a defense of religious and social customs. But honestly, dignity has a greater chance to flower when you don't have to worry about secret police kicking down your door.

Ignatius really gets himself tangled up when he drags counterinsurgency methods into his argument that Americans should downplay democracy. Why yes, if you're the US military trying to hammer out a deal with a sheikh who's turned on al Qaeda, that's not the best time to argue democracy and human rights against the sheikh's "justice and honor."

Yet "justice and honor" are the code words for clan and tribal revenge cycles. Surveying the millenia-long oppression of the peoples called Iraqis, just see where fighting for justice and honor always landed them! It is well past time that tribes and clans the world over grow beyond their narrow codes -- which tyrannies since time immemorial have exploited on the divide-and-conquer theory.

Is America the wrong country to be talking to the world about democracy? Only if you never recovered from your high school years, when a frown from his peers can send a teenager into severe depression.

Can Americans learn to talk in more persuasive terms about democracy? Can we learn to frame our arguments in a lexicon more tailored to different cultures? And should we strive to more carefully time our lectures about human rights and democracy? Yes to all.

The immediate aftermath of the Beslan massacre was an awfully counterproductive moment to publicly lecture the Russians about Chechyna. Just as this moment is the very worst one in which to condemn the Turks for genocide.

As one Turkish official noted to the US government last week, "We found your weapons. They're killing us." He was speaking of a large weapons cache that went missing in Iraq, and which somehow turned up in the hands of the PKK.

However, it is folly to revise the most important message of our time to the point where it disappears. On his Sunday broadcast for KFI, John Batchelor reminded his listeners of Adolf Hitler's sneering comment that since the world had forgotten the Armenians, they wouldn't remember the Jews.

Nothing has changed from the time of Hitler, if we consider the massacres conducted by Burma's regime, the massacres in Sudan, and the government-directed mass starvation in North Korea and Zimbabwe.

There are certain things about the worst of human nature that will never change. All we can do is try to insure that the worst among us do not gain power over millions. Democracy, and teaching democracy, remain our best shot on that score. Americans should have the right to teach what we know best about insuring true human dignity, which is freedom from oppression. And we should encourage all governments valuing democracy to do the same.

A crash course on Burma's post-colonial history

In a mere five paragraphs Thant Myint-U, author of River of Lost Footsteps: Histories of Burma (one of the few modern histories of Burma) and a grandson of U Thant, outlines how the military became the state in Burma. His short history forms the basis of his argument that sanctions and any attempt at regime change won't change anything in Burma.
When Burma (renamed Myanmar by the junta) achieved independence from Britain in 1948, the country was already at civil war. A widespread communist insurgency attempted to seize power, the army splintered along ethnic lines, and much of the countryside fell under the control of local militia. The then-democratic government barely survived. In the early 1950s, Chinese nationalist forces, supported by the CIA, marched in from the east (remnants of the armies of Chiang Kai-shek), and in the 1960s, Beijing backed a massive new communist rebellion.

To fight these different foes, a big military machine grew up, which soon outclassed and outgunned every other part of the nascent state. By 1962, the army took over entirely. At its head was Gen. Ne Win, tyrant, playboy, numerologist and onetime post office clerk, a tough-talking, Japanese-trained soldier who would wield absolute power for the next 30 years.

His "Burmese way to socialism" quickly ran the once-promising economy into the ground. He nationalized all industries, banned international trade and investment, expelled nearly half a million ethnic Indians and stopped accepting foreign aid. He shut off Burma from the rest of the world but made an exception for himself, hobnobbing with British aristocrats in London, shopping in Geneva and (for a while, perhaps not long enough), traveling regularly to Vienna to consult the well-known psychiatrist, Dr. Hans Hoff.

Burma is about the size of France and Britain combined, with a population of more than 50 million, stretching from the eastern Himalayas 1,000 miles south to sun-drenched beaches along the Andaman Sea. About two-thirds of the people are Burmese Buddhists; the rest belong to dozens of other ethnic and religious groups. Members of the army under Ne Win began to see themselves as Burma's saviors -- from foreign aggression and internal fragmentation -- looking backward to the glory days of Burmese warrior-kings and tapping into Burmese nationalism's more xenophobic strains.

The country only began to crawl out of its isolation in the early 1990s, when the regime finally began to welcome foreign trade and investment back to the country and asked for help in reforming the economy. As important, the army agreed to cease-fires with nearly all the various rebel armies. But all this came at the same time that Burma's new democracy movement -- headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of a revered hero of the Burmese independence movement who had been assassinated -- was pressing hard for political change. The West began to impose sanctions to support her position, pushing the generals back into their shell.(1)
So what does the author recommend the international community do? He writes that meaningful help will require
[An] acceptance that long-distance condemnation and Western economic sanctions don't mean much to the half-century-old military regime, a regime that has long been comfortable in isolation and needs only a modicum of money and trade from the outside world.

It will require a realization that Burma sits right in the middle of Asia's economic miracle, that harnessing Burma to that rapid change is the surest way to raise up living standards, and that access to Western markets and Western ideas will make all the difference in determining whether the Burmese become equal partners of China and India or merely the providers of cheap labor and raw materials. And it's only when the Burmese ruling elite are exposed to the world that they will see a need to mend their ways.(1)
1) Saving Burma the right way, The Los Angeles Times

Monday, October 15

Writing a new playbook on Burma

What is all this nattering reaching my ears that UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari can't hope to make a whit of progress with Burma's junta? Gee. Some people. The very kind who throw down their rifle and cry, "We're defeated!" after taking two rounds of incoming fire.

Mr Gambari is not only visiting Burma this time around -- his second trip there in two weeks. He landed in Thailand yesterday to meet with top leaders there, and he'll be going on to meet with leaders in Malaysia, Indonesia, India, China and Japan. Those visits will be to work out a concerted effort to pressure Burma's junta.

I note Gambari's itinerary does not include Singapore, which, as I noted yesterday, seems to be the key nation when it comes to arm-twisting Burma's generals. But I don't think it takes a crystal ball to observe that Singapore is waiting to see which way the wind blows for other ASEAN members before applying pressure.

This said, I appreciate the points made by Thailand's (army-installed) Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont. He doesn't think the UN can do much good on its own.
"Given the existing personnel and budget [devoted by the UN to Myanmar's issues], I do not see any chance for such changes [in the regime]," he said.

The Thai premier, however, vowed to continue working with fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to push for a peaceful resolution in Myanmar.

"A majority of the world community expects that ASEAN should be able to something on Myanmar," Surayud said.

"Both Thailand and Myanmar are members of ASEAN. Three parties -- ASEAN, the UN and powerful countries like China and India -- must work together to bring about developments in Myanmar," he added
.
So it's early days. Burma has never before received so much attention from the outside world. Those outside Burma wonder why soldiers could shoot protestors in full view of the world. But the 'world watching' really didn't mean anything to them last month because they had no experience with such close monitoring.

Burma's regime flourished in the darkness of the world's inattention. Well, now we're attending, and now the regime is discovering what it means to attend.

New Delhi has been mincing around, but every major political party in India is now demanding that Delhi revert to their 1990s policy of giving strong support to Burma's democratic opposition. And India's feisty press is pounding home the message.

Think Brussels is acting wimpy? Check out the latest news from French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Britain's Foreign Minister David Miliband -- and note the mention of "further measures" (read "energy contracts"):
Last month, as the demonstrations grew in intensity, the European Union made it plain that it would not hesitate to impose tougher measures against the regime if it resorted to force against peaceful demonstrators. Sadly, the regime failed to heed this, and many similar, warnings. So Europe's foreign ministers will be meeting on Monday to discuss how to toughen up sanctions against the Burmese regime.

EU sanctions currently include a travel ban and asset freeze on specific individuals and a ban on commercial dealings with specific state companies with close ties to the regime. On Monday, the European Union will target those sectors from which the regime draws much of its revenue, including timber, precious metals and gems, and will make clear that whether further measures are imposed will depend entirely on the regime's willingness to allow genuine political progress.

All the signs point to a regime that feels the pressure. These new measures will help to maintain that pressure by focusing on the business interests of the regime rather than the wider population.
True, sanctions against Burma have only worked to drive the regime into close dependence on nations that won't criticize them. And there is ample evidence that sanctions have been largely ineffective.

But sanctions were slapped on Burma without any ongoing follow-up. Now the concerned parties are busy drawing up a new playbook. Miliband and Kouchner observe:
The EU must also offer positive incentives for progress. The EU needs to consider a package of positive measures to the Burmese people should the regime show its willingness to genuinely work for reconciliation. In the meantime, we will continue to provide vital humanitarian assistance to the Burmese people in order to alleviate the suffering of the population.
It is easy to criticize the ASEAN nations for not taking a tougher line on Burma years ago. But they were working from a playbook that is well-worn in the West:
Burma's neighbors are beginning to recognize that unconditional engagement has failed. All that is needed now is for the United States to acknowledge that merely reinforcing its strategy of isolation and the existing sanctions regime will not achieve the desired results either. Such a reappraisal would then allow all concerned parties to build an international consensus with the dual aim of creating new incentives for the SPDC [State Peace and Development Council - the formal name for Burma's junta] to reform and increasing the price it will pay if it fails to change its ways.(1)
Make no mistake; Burma's neighbors have found Burma to be increasingly troublesome:
Burma's neighbors are struggling to respond to the spillover effects of worsening living conditions in the country. The narcotics trade, human trafficking, and HIV/AIDS are all spreading through Southeast Asia thanks in part to Burmese drug traffickers who regularly distribute heroin with HIV-tainted needles in China, India, and Thailand.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Burma accounts for 80 percent of all heroin produced in Southeast Asia, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has drawn a direct connection between the drug routes running from Burma and the marked increase in HIV/AIDS in the border regions of neighboring countries.

Perversely, the SPDC has been playing on its neighbors' concerns over the drugs, disease, and instability that Burma generates to blackmail them into providing it with political, economic, and even military assistance.

Worse, the SPDC appears to have been taking an even more threatening turn recently. Western intelligence officials have suspected for several years that the regime has had an interest in following the model of North Korea and achieving military autarky by developing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. Last spring, the junta normalized relations and initiated conventional weapons trade with North Korea in violation of UN sanctions against Pyongyang.(1)
So it's been a High Noon situation, with everybody looking at everybody else to make the first move against the junta: the UN, ASEAN, EU, US, China, India, and so on. In the end, it was the Burmese civilians who made the first move.

Last week TIME magazine reported on rumors out of Burma that hundreds of soldiers were arrested because they refused to shoot monks engaged in the protests. That sounds plausible. Now whatever sanity that exists within the military's upper echelon must make itself felt. This time, much of the world will stand by to help.

1) Foreign Affairs, Asia's Forgotten Crisis: A New Approach to Burma

Sunday, October 14

Burma's dumb generals trying to make a nuke?

In 2002, Joshua Kurlantzick, who covered trade and international economics for U.S. News & World Report, wrote a piece on Burma for the Washington Monthly titled Ran-goons: Why isn't Burma on Bush's Axis of Evil list? He mentioned ominous signs that Burma's junta was trying to acquire a nuke:
Burma's ruling generals have decided to build a nuclear reactor. What for? "Medical purposes," says Burma's foreign minister, yet the country doesn't have the technology to make radioactive isotopes used in medicine. It does, however, have a shady history regarding weapons of mass destruction. In the mid-1990s, the respected arms control group International Peace Research Institute, as well as American intelligence, accused Burma of possessing a chemical-weapons program. Burma's neighbors --- and the U.S.--- certainly can't be reassured by the fact that two Pakistani nuclear scientists whom the CIA reportedly wanted to question about potential ties to Al Qaeda were sent to Burma shortly after Sept. 11 on an unknown research project, and allegedly haven't returned. [...]

The junta plans to build the reactor even though its power grid has collapsed. When I was in Burma last year, my hotel's electricity failed roughly every fifteen minutes. Much of Burma's gas is sold abroad, and provides little benefit to ordinary Burmese. Security at Rangoon's atomic energy department is so bad that foreign journalists have walked right in past sleeping guards. More than 300 Burmese technicians have received training at a Moscow nuclear laboratory over the past year, and Russia plans to provide more technical and financial help to the reactor project.

And who knows what other countries are contributing to Burma's nuclear know-how? According to William Ashton, a Southeast Asian security expert, since the early 1990s, the Burmese military service has developed a close relationship with Pakistan, which has sold large amounts of weaponry to Rangoon. Were the Pakistani nuclear scientists in town to assist Rangoon in making fissile material? If not, Burma might turn to the North Koreans. In the past year, Pyongyang has drastically boosted its ties to the junta, selling Burma weapons and sending its second highest-ranking leader on visits to Rangoon.
Why couldn't Kurlantzick publish his eye-opening report in a major press outlet? Because Burma wasn't on anybody's list at the time -- at least, not in the West.

In January 2002, the US Department of State fielded questions about Burma's planned nuke research center by mildly observing that they expected Burma and Russia to live up to their obligations as parties to the Nonproliferation Treaty. They also said that Burma had "accepted International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards on the totality of its nuclear projects (that is, "full-scope" safeguards), which would include this research reactor."

By May of this year, when the Russia deal with Burma had ground forward and it was clear that Burma's economy was on the verge of collapse, State sounded more alarmed:
State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the Asian state had neither the "legal frame" nor the "safeguard provisions" for a nuclear programme. "We would be concerned about the possibility for accidents, for environmental damage, or for proliferation simply by the possibility of fuel being diverted, stolen or otherwise removed," he said.
Burma's nuke angle throws light on China's about-face in signing up for a tough UN statement on Burma's regime. And the angle suggests that China had more than the obvious reasons to pressure North Korea at the Six-Party Talks. A nuclear-armed Burma would be a nightmare for China -- and for all Burma's neighbors.

The angle also might explain the rumor that Than Shwe moved the capital to the jungle because he was scared the US would bomb his headquarters. He should have no worries on that score, but he might worry about some of his neighbors getting worried about his nuke program.

Say, whatever did happen to those two Pakistani nuclear scientists?

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong! Listen to your daddy!

Pundita has ragged on China and India for their role in supporting Burma's junta. Not to make Singapore feel left out or anything:
[...] by providing Burma's pariah junta with crucial material and equipment mostly denied by Western sanctions Singapore has helped keep the military government and its cronies afloat for 20 years, indeed since the last time the generals killed the citizens they are supposed to protect with industrial efficiency and brutality, as now. Without the support from Singapore, Burma's junta would be greatly weakened and perhaps even fail.(1)
Well! All Pundita can say about that is Singapore's prime minister had better listen to what his father, former PM Lee Kuan Yew, had to say about Burma's junta. To refresh, he said that Burma's generals were dumb and that they'd mismanaged Burma's economy so badly they could face revolt.

Yes but how can Burmese citizens revolt, with all the help the junta is receiving from Singapore?

And just a few days ago Pundita was calling for an Internet Wall of Shame that fingers foreign enterprises doing big business with despots. Maybe Singapore's Temasek Holdings and Singapore Technologies should go at the top of any such list for Burma.

[...] there is a group of government businessmen-technocrats in Singapore who will also be closely - and perhaps nervously - monitoring the brutality in Rangoon. Were they so inclined, their influence could go a long way to limiting the misery being inflicted on Burma's 54 million people.

Collectively known as Singapore Inc, they gather around the $150 billion state-owned investment house Temasek Holdings, controlled by Singapore's long-ruling Lee family. With an estimated $3 billion invested in Burma [...] Singapore Inc companies have been some of the biggest investors in and supporters of Burma's military junta - this while its Government, on the rare times it is asked, gently suggests a softly-softly diplomatic approach toward the junta.

When it comes to Burma, Singapore pockets the high morals it likes to wave at the West. [...]

From hotels, airlines, military equipment and training, crowd control equipment and sophisticated telecommunications monitoring devices, Singapore is a crucial manager and supplier to the junta, and Burma's economy. [...]

Much of Singapore's activity in Burma has been documented by an analyst working in Australia's Office of National Assessments. Andrew Selth is recognised as a leading authority on Burma's military. Now a research fellow at Queensland's Griffith University, Selth has written extensively for years on how close Singapore Inc is to the junta.

Often writing as "William Ashton" in Jane's Intelligence Review, Selth has described how Singapore has sent guns, rockets, armoured personnel carriers and grenade launchers to the junta, some of it trans-shipped from stocks seized by Israel from Palestinians in southern Lebanon.

Singaporean companies have provided computers and communications equipment for Burma's defence ministry and army, while upgrading the junta's ability to communicate with regional commanders - so crucial as protesters [took] to the streets of 20 cities in Burma. [...]

"Singapore cares little about human rights, in particular the plight of the ethnic and religious minorities in Burma," Selth writes. "Having developed one of the region's most advanced armed forces and defence industrial support bases, Singapore is in a good position to offer Burma a number of inducements which other ASEAN [Association of South-East Asian Nations] countries would find hard to match."

Selth says Singapore also provided the equipment for a "cyber war centre" to monitor dissident activity, while training Burma's secret police, whose sole job appears to be ensuring democracy groups are crushed. [...]

"This centre is reported to be closely involved in the monitoring and recording of foreign and domestic telecommunications, including the satellite telephone conversations of Burmese opposition groups," Selth writes.

Singaporean government companies, such as the arms supplier Singapore Technologies, dominate the communications and military sector in Singapore. Selth writes: "It is highly unlikely that any of these arms shipments to Burma could have been made without the knowledge and support of the Singapore Government." He notes that Singapore's ambassadors to Burma have included a former senior Singapore Armed Forces officer and a past director of Singapore's defence-oriented Joint Intelligence Directorate. "It is curious that Singapore chose to assign someone with a military background to this new member of ASEAN and not one of its many capable professional diplomats."

Selth writes that after Burma's 1988 crackdown, in which 3000 democracy protesters were killed, "the first country to come to the regime's rescue was in fact Singapore".

Describing Singapore's usefulness to Burma, [Singaporean diplomat to Burma, Matthew Sim] says "many successful Myanmar businessmen have opened shell companies" in Singapore "with little or no staff, used to keep funds overseas". The companies are used to keep business deals outside the control of Burma's central bank, enabling Singaporeans and others to make transactions with Burma in Singapore, he says.

Sim may be referring to junta cronies such as Tay Za and the druglord Lo Hsing Han. Lo is an ethnic Chinese, from Burma's traditionally Chinese-populated and opium-rich Kokang region in the country's east, bordering China. Lo controls a heroin empire and one of Burma's biggest companies, Asia World, which the US Drug Enforcement Agency describes as a front for his drug trafficking. Asia World controls toll roads, industrial parks and trading companies.

Singapore is the Lo family's window to the world, a base for controlling several companies. Lo's son Steven, who has been denied a visa to the US because of his drug links, is married to a Singaporean, Cecilia Ng. The two reportedly control a Singapore-based trading house, Kokang Singapore Pty Ltd. The couple transit Singapore at will. A former US assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Robert Gelbard, has said half of Singapore's investment in Burma has been "tied to the family of narco-trafficker Lo Hsing Han". (1)

There's more to this Aussie press report, which finishes with the tart observation that while vowing to impose financial sanctions on Burma's regime, "perhaps Prime Minister John Howard should be calling Singapore's bankers rather than Australia's."

The problem here is that Temasek Holdings has more than $20 billion invested in Australia. Oh what tangled webs weaves the globalized era in supporting tyrants!

1) Singapore a friend indeed to Burma, Sydney Morning Herald

Saturday, October 13

Strategic Communication: how to get your message across when the enemy's agitprop is better than yours

"One point of agreement across the political spectrum and that of informed opinion is that the [US government] has not done a particularly good job of managing "the war of ideas" in the conflict with Islamist terrorism. Or against state adversaries. Or with persuading neutrals and even our own allies to our point of view. When you are having difficulty drawing even in a global popularity contest with a crowd of bearded fanatics who put beheading videos on the internet, it's time to admit there's a problem."
-- Mark Safranski

It so happened that Zenpundit Mark Safranski published his knockout essay On War, Comprehension and Persuasion on the same day that Pundita turned her attention to the gathering storm of events in Burma. That was on September 23.

I have a vague recollection of sending the essay to colleagues at that time and hurriedly writing Mark to say that I wanted to comment on it. That seems forever ago, as day by day the protests in Burma played out to their inevitable horrific conclusion.

The failure of the international community to persuade Burma's rulers to halt their brutal crackdown is a grim coda to Mark's analysis of the challenges facing diplomacy in this era. Although he focuses on America's strategic communication problems, the discussion applies to all democracies in this era.

America's wonks are still reeling from the post 9/11 discovery that many people around the world not only don't want democracy, they think it's the sign of the devil. As for human rights and that terribly odd term "freedom," millions are convinced they're a plot by the rich nations to rob the poor ones.

Just how does one's government talk to such people? How do you persuade them to see your point of view? And how do you get them to act on your recommendations without having to bomb them into seeing sense?

The first two questions form the heart of diplomacy; the last properly belongs to agitprop, which today is subsumed under the nice clinical term strategic communication. The latter simply means "getting the right message, through the right media, to the right audience at the right time."

After giving a crash course in America's 20th Century strategic communication efforts, Mark wastes no time wringing his hands over the sad state of affairs today. He rolls up his sleeves and defines the broad areas of challenge and their most striking characteristics:
The cultural multiplicity of the global audience, which is/are:

- Tiered from real-time postmodern transnational elites down to pre-modern tribal villagers still relying upon an oral tradition who receive their information flow hours, days, weeks or later.

- Viewing events from worldviews based upon five or more major civilizational traditions and many times that number of major subnational or subcultural traditions .

- Often times the audience is locked into a feedback loop with relatively sophisticated and influential (or impoverished and alienated) expatriate communities in the West and United States.

A multiplicity of information platforms which are:

- Spreading access to information with increasing rates of economic efficiency in a way that leapfrogs people over Gutenberg and directly into the World Wide Web.

- Are evolving technologically both in terms of processing power and parameters of expression that defy linear trend predictions (there are really more usable app ideas than ever get fully developed for reasons of return on investment and IP issues).

- Are evolving at a speed beyond which bureaucratic acquisition and budgetary schedules can adjust in order to keep USG employees in line with the tech capabilities of the private sector.

A multiplicity of information messages in a net volume that:

- Creates sheer "Attention scarcity" problems in target audiences -usually elite - which have begun to operate psychologically under the dictates of the "attention economy". [Visit Mark's site for a link that explains the term.]

- Creates a deafening "White Noise" through which critical messages to the target audience can neither be seen nor heard nor reinforced with reliability or be perceived in the proportion or perspective desired. [See site for links to terms under discussion.]

- Ratchets up the Darwinian velocity of the marketplace of ideas to snuff out or mutate memes faster than IO planners can adjust while also trying to bring along the portion of the audience still processing at much slower rates of comprehension.
After performing that feat of analysis and synthesis, Mark leaves it to the reader to brainstorm solutions. Several solutions are 'technical' and thus relatively easy to implement, and Mark's essay identifies some of these. Other solutions can only be arrived at heuristically. And some can only derive from a philosophy that integrates Zenpundit's three categories of challenges.

Meanwhile, we have a war to fight. I know this observation will elicit laughter but the US invasion of Iraq is the greatest communications coup by a government in modern history. To understand why this is not a crazy statement, consider that winning attention is prior to communication of one's message.

Before the 9/11 attack, the American government's foreign policy attention was focused on free trade, expanding America's global trade initiatives, and helping post-Soviet countries establish themselves. Al Qaeda's attack took control of the ground of discussion by forcing the American people's attention to the issues Qaeda wanted to talk about.

The Afghanistan invasion still stayed within the discussion parameters that Qaeda laid down. However, the Iraq invasion captured al Qaeda's attention. They had to place their attention where President Bush wanted it placed. He completely shifted the ground of discussion. Al Qaeda was forced into arguments about democracy, freedom, voting practices, etc. -- stuff that was not on their list of talking points.

Another way to say all this is that communication follows on actions, not words, and that attention creates meaning. Provided the US government never forgets this, they will stumble in the right direction in the information battlespace.

Friday, October 12

China joins in strong statement to Burma - YIPPPEE!!

We go into the weekend on a hopeful note. From Reuters, October 12, 2007:
UNITED NATIONS -- China joined Western powers for the first time to deplore Myanmar's brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations and call for political dialogue in a statement issued Thursday by the U.N. Security Council.

The statement urged the military regime, which has ruled Myanmar for 45 years, to free all political prisoners and protesters soon and prepare for a "genuine dialogue" with main opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The policy statement is not legally binding, but because it required the consent of all 15 Security Council members, it left the Myanmar government isolated, Western diplomats said.

It was the first time the Security Council had taken official action on Myanmar and marked a shift for China, a neighbor and key trading partner that had previously used its veto to prevent criticism of the country's authorities.

The United Nations said special envoy Ibrahim Gambari would leave over the weekend for an Asian tour that would include his second visit to Myanmar since the regime suppressed the demonstrations led by Buddhist monks last month. [...]
Yes! Now Delhi and certain ASEAN governments might screw up their courage!

Reuters also quoted U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as saying about Burma, "We will not relent. We will persist." Yes!

As for the UN envoy, he wasn't supposed to return to Burma until November. He is showing great tenacity. Godspeed Ibrahim Gambari!

Pundita's Person of the Week Award goes to Lee Kuan Yew

I don't know how I missed these wonderful comments at the time, which was September 27 -- at the height of the junta's brutal crackdown on the protests:
Singapore's elder statesman, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew referred to Burma's ruling military council as "dumb generals." He said they had mismanaged the economy badly, and would face revolt if their excesses continued.
My point exactly! -- but that such a powerful Asian said it, bluntly and in public, is the best news I've had all week.

A Western author once called Singapore "Disneyland with the death penalty." There are worse fates for a nation, as Burma illustrates. But Burma's rulers are so dumb they don't know that it's entirely possible to run a repressive government and still keep the people well fed, with good health care, gainfully employed, and without slaughtering ethnic groups to keep them in line.

If I were one of Burma's generals, I would be so ashamed of how badly my people were treated that I could not show my face in public. I would be mortified that the entire world saw during the protests how badly off my people were.

Corruption is the real sticking point with Burma's rulers, which is why I doubt they'd willingly take advice from Lee. When he was prime minister he perfectly understood the cancerous effort of rampant corruption:
Lee was well aware how corruption had led to the downfall of the Nationalist Chinese government in mainland China. Fighting against the communists himself, he knew he had to 'clean house'. Lee introduced legislation that gave the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) greater power to conduct arrests, search, call up witnesses, and investigate bank accounts and income tax returns of suspected persons and their family. With Lee’s support, CPIB was given the authority to investigate any officer or minister. Indeed, several ministers were later charged with corruption.

Lee believed that ministers should be well paid in order to maintain a clean and honest government. In 1994, he proposed to link the salaries of ministers, judges, and top civil servants to the salaries of top professionals in the private sector, arguing that this would help recruit and retain talents to serve in the public sector.(1)
That last is a practice that even the United States needs to adopt.

Burma's generals also need to take a hard look at how much Singapore accomplished after independence. They made astounding progress because the government put faith in the energy and resourcefulness of their people. They placed the highest value on human resources.

Above all, Than Shwe needs to abandon the conceit that he represents the tradition of ancient Asia's greatest kings. What great king did not live to serve his people? Shame on Than Shwe, nothing but shame!

1) Wikipedia

Thursday, October 11

Rita Katz, SITE, Obelisk, pwnage, Fred Fielding, intelligence leaks, etcetera, etcetera

Readers who are new to the story can get oriented by going to the source of the first footnote I provide. But the gist will become clear as you read along. I am plunging in without preamble because I'm really talking to what I hope are just a few Americans -- ones who won't rest until they have conjured public investigations of a matter that in wartime should be reviewed behind closed doors. Why don't these Americans save bother and just invite senior al Qaeda operatives to poke around inside US intelligence agencies?

With that off my chest, here is my understanding of the story so far:

When Rita Katz's timeline of events is compared with other documented events, she actually VINDICATES the White House of involvement with the INITIAL leak of the latest OBL video/video transcript.

Hard to believe? Then let's review the facts of the matter involving Katz, her SITE Intelligence Group company, ABC News, and the White House:

1. According to Katz's account to The Washington Post, on Sept 7 "around 10:00 AM" she sent Fred Fielding at the White House an e-mail with a link to a private SITE Web page containing the video and an English transcript. (1)

2. That was not her first contact with Fielding about the matter, but according to Katz it was the first time she relayed the video/transcript to him.

3. Meanwhile, at precisely 9:23 AM on Sept 7, ABC News Blotter online published a photo from the latest OBL video, which was time-stamped with the date 9/6/07, and a discussion of its contents.(2)

4. Here is an excerpt from the ABC Report. The emphasis in the last sentence is mine:
Intelligence sources tell ABC News they believe the video message from Osama bin Laden is authentic, recently produced and evidence the al Qaeda leader is still alive.

According to government sources, an initial analysis of the tape indicates "a lot of chest thumping" and of course historical references "alluding" to the successful attack on New York.

And a CIA spokesman told ABC News, "It's quite possible this is a new video."

...U.S. authorities earlier this morning said the tape's transcript is aimed at potential suicide bombers who [OBL] urges to carry out missions against the West
.
So. Earlier than 9:23 AM the CIA and unnamed authorities had reviewed both a transcript and a video tape -- even though Katz informed the Post that she had sent Fielding the data around 10:00 AM on the same day.

5) Furthermore, the date stamp on the tape suggests that ABC was in possession of the tape and possibly the transcript as early as September 6.

6) That would be the day before Ms. Katz claims she relayed the SITE data to the White House.

7) Let's assess at this point:

The video and transcript in ABC's possession were either:

> pirated from SITE by an undisclosed party or SITE willingly provided to ABC, or

> different versions of SITE's data, and provided by a source(s) other than SITE.

8) Yet no matter how ABC came by their data, THEY COULD NOT HAVE RECEIVED SITE'S DATA FROM THE WHITE HOUSE.

9) This does not mean that the White House did not share the SITE data even though they deny doing so. Indeed, there are events to suggest that they shared the SITE video and transcript with at least one government agency shortly after receiving them.(3)

10) The events clearly caused Ms Katz to leap to a conclusion: "This confirms that the U.S. government was responsible for the leak of [the SITE] document," Katz wrote in an e-mail.(1)

11) Ms. Katz may have been speaking the literal truth if the White House leaked the SITE data; i.e., they would have leaked HER data. But the cat was already out of the bag by the time the White House could have shared Katz's data.

12) Was it possible the White House leaked the same data but obtained from another source? No, according to Ms. Katz:
Katz said Fielding and [Joel Bagnal, deputy assistant to the president for homeland security] made it clear to her that the White House did not possess a copy [of the transcript/video] at the time she offered hers.(1)
Thus ends a recitation of facts. Now to some general observations and speculation:

To summarize, by the time Katz shared her data with Fielding it was already old news, thanks to ABC Blotter. So there would be no legal or security reasons preventing the White House from sharing the SITE transcript with several government agencies -- any of which could have passed the data to news media. Even the White House could have shared the data with media. Again, by that time it didn't matter how many media outlets saw the tape and transcript; the information was already a matter of public record.

As to Katz's claim that she included with the data she sent Fielding a request not to disclose it --
"Please understand the necessity for secrecy," Katz wrote in her e-mail. "We ask you not to distribute . . . [as] it could harm our investigations."(1)
-- the timeline is very awkward for Rita Katz, no matter sincere she might be. To understand why this is so, put yourself in Fielding's place:

You're sitting in your office in front of your computer reading the ABC Blotter report on the top secret OBL video and transcript. This is after your boss called and screamed at you to go to ABC News Online.

Some time back (we don't know what day Katz first contacted Fielding about sharing the data) Ms. Katz had offered you the very same data that ABC had.

Forty minutes later, Ping! an email arrives for you from Rita with a link to the promised data, and carrying her admonishment to keep it secret.

Given the kind of company SITE is, Mr. Fielding could have readily assumed that within moments of the ABC Blotter report appearing online, a SITE newsbot would have been all over it. SITE specializes in digging up internet data on terrorist videos.

In short, it's hard to believe that by the time Katz sent the email to Fielding she didn't know that the 'secret' data she was sending had already gone round the world 40 minutes earlier.

So while Katz might feel within her rights to be angry with Fielding, this was not a game of tiddlywinks she was playing. Once the secret was out, no one at the White House would be under obligation to keep the data secret unless they'd signed a contract to that effect, which they hadn't. SITE is in the business of selling information.

Next, why would the White House and/or an intelligence/defense agency share the SITE data with the media -- if indeed that happened -- once they knew the subject material had been made public? There are any number of reasons, including the determination to seem on top of the matter. But any answer would be purely speculative at this point because again the White House and all concerned parties are denying they shared the data.

None of the above speaks to the video and transcript that ABC, CIA and other agencies had obtained prior to the White House receiving the SITE data. Who provided those entities with the data?

We can't even speculate at this point because there are so many private and government entities collecting such data. Really, anyone with the will and technical knowledge to hack al Qaeda's extranet, code name Obelisk, could have come by the data. The video -- which was actually a draft of the final video, according to Nick Grace of Clandestine Radio -- was stored on Obelisk.

So we come to the reason for the hue and cry. The story is that as soon as al Qaeda operatives learned of the ABC Blotter report, this alerted them that Obelisk had been penetrated, so they shut it down.

If that story is correct, then by the time the White House might have shared the SITE data the damage to US clandestine intelligence-gathering efforts would have already been done by ABC Blotter. That's provided damage was done to any intelligence gathering operation other than SITE's. One thing is known for certain: a great deal of damage was done to al Qaeda. Dr. Rusty Shackleford provided this scholarly analysis of the hacking of Obelisk:
But no matter how hard they try, they will never be as good as we are.
We pwn you al-Qaeda and as-Sahab. We. Frickin. Pwn. You.
Mwuahahahahahaaaaaaaaaa!!!
Video gaming and computer hacking illiterates can see footnote 4 if they have any desire to learn the meaning of pwn.

Much of the legwork for this post (and the reasoning) was done by bloggers who came to the Katz-ABC story earlier than Pundita. I'd like to give those bloggers mention and thanks, and with links to the posts I read:

Rusty Shackleford at Jawa Report

Greyhawk and Cassandra at Milblogs

Thanks to Dan Riehl at Riehl World View for starting the ball rolling for me.

And thanks to the John Batchelor Show for the Obelisk angle and for filling in some of the blanks.

1) The Washington Post

2) The Blotter

3) From the Wapo report (see footnote #1):
"within minutes of Katz's e-mail to the White House, government-registered computers began downloading the video from SITE's server, according to a log of file transfers. The records show dozens of downloads over the next three hours from computers with addresses registered to defense and intelligence agencies.

By midafternoon, several television news networks reported obtaining copies of the transcript. A copy posted around 3 p.m. on Fox News's Web site referred to SITE and included page markers identical to those used by the group.
4) From Wikipedia:
"Pwn is a slang term that implies domination and/or humiliation of a rival. It sprang from the similar term "owned" and is used primarily in the Internet gaming culture to taunt an opponent that has just been soundly defeated. Examples include "pwnage" or "you just got pwned". It can also be used, especially by non-gamers, in the context of getting "pwned" by The Man.

In Internet security jargon, to "pwn" means "to compromise" or "to control", specifically another computer (server or PC), web site, gateway device, or application; it is synonymous with one of the definitions of hacking. An outside party who has "owned" or "pwned" a system has obtained unauthorized administrative control of the system.

The term was one of 16 to appear on the 2006 "List of Words and Phrases Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness," released annually by Lake Superior State University.

Wednesday, October 10

Bully for Laura Bush but unfortunately she's wrong on a key point

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. first lady Laura Bush -- in a rare foray into foreign policy -- called on Myanmar's military junta to "step aside," give up the "terror campaigns" against its people and allow for a democratic Myanmar in a commentary published in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal.

"Gen. Than Shwe and his deputies are a friendless regime," Bush said. "They should step aside to make way for a unified Burma [Myanmar] governed by legitimate leaders.
Burma's murderous regime has some very staunch and powerful friends:
New Delhi, October 9
Tribune News Service (India)

New Delhi’s ties with Myanmar are getting deeper and richer by the day and have already acquired strategic dimensions. Far from distancing itself from the military junta, New Delhi is stepping up its involvement with Myanmar in coming weeks when it will finalise the Kaladan project with Myanmar.

Kaladan project is the centre-piece of the diplomatic and strategic edifice that India is busy building with Myanmar over the past few years. Kaladan is an important trans-border infrastructure project that will let the land-locked North-Eastern states gain easy access to the Bay of Bengal through Myanmar. It envisages a multi-modal transport corridor and building of a pipeline that will bring natural gas from Myanmar into the North-East. The economic, security and geopolitical stakes for India are so high in Myanmar that it is prepared to overlook the growing Western criticism of its engagement with Yangon.
Now if Pundita wanted to be fair to India she would quote the rest of the report, which is that Delhi timidly hopes the junta will talk with Aun Sung Suu Kyi and other opposition leaders. But this situation is not about being fair and balanced. It's about a crisis in which thousands of innocent lives hang in the balance.

Tuesday, October 9

John Batchelor scoops MSM. So what's new?

Sunday night the John Batchelor Show, just returned to the airwaves, broke the news that Obelisk is the name of al Qaeda's extranet and discussed the significance of the US government's penetration of Obelisk.

Today The Washington Post and New York Sun tried to play catch-up with Batchelor. Now the fast-moving story has grown more legs than a centipede because the mainstream media has -- crazily -- spun the story as an intelligence blunder by the US government.

To learn where the story has galloped, you can start with the posts at Riehl World View and Jawa Report.

The John Batchelor Show is the listening post. Stay tuned. The show airs for three hours Sunday night starting at 7:00 PM Eastern time on WABC in New York, then at 7:00 PM Pacific time rolls into another three hours on superstation KFI in Los Angeles. This past Sunday the shows had different guests. The six hour marathon can be heard live at WABC and KFI websites.

Monday, October 8

Back With a Bang: Bicoastal Batchelor Broadcasts

Last night John Batchelor rolled out his news show in three hour back-to-back gigs for two superstation talk radio networks:

WABC in New York and KFI in Los Angeles. The marathon, which kicked off at 7:00 PM Eastern time and next at 7:00 PM Pacific time, featured different guests for each broadcast.

Both stations can be tuned in via the Internet. The situation caused a mixture of joy and consternation for Batchelorites, who must dedicate six hours of listening on Sundays if they want to stay ahead of the news curve. Worse, they still feel shorted because the John Batchelor Show belongs on the radio five nights a week; there's just too much important news crying out for good analysis to be squeezed into only six hours of broadcast time.

Sometimes Pundita wonders whether radio station executives know what to do with Batchelor's show because talk radio is not news radio. All-news radio networks, which read out news wire headlines, aren't set up to provide a three-hour platform for Batchelor's show. And yet talk radio, which relies on listener callers and agenda-driven hosts, isn't the place you'd expect to find an in-depth news show.

I suppose I should be grateful that some talk radio executives are smart enough to recognize the crying need for Batchelor's show. But two stations, even giants such as WABC and KFI, aren't enough; at the least John's show needs to air again on all the networks that featured his original show.

Enough complaining. It was great to hear John needling the Saudi government again. The WABC show broke the name of al Qaeda's extranet, "Obelisk," thanks to Clandestine Radio's Nick Grace; Nick also explained to John's audience the significance of the USG's penetration of Qaeda's prize possession.

I was glad that both shows featured a segment on the Burma crisis. The hardest hitting segment (on KFI) for me was John's discussion with Al J. Venter about Africa's plight, and specifically the exploitation of Africa by China and India -- which also played into Burma's situation. Al (a South African) is perhaps best known for his book Allah's Bomb: The Islamic Quest for Nuclear Weapons but as a war journalist for 40 years he has covered many African conflicts.

Journalist Aaron Klein's tale of his popularity with Arab terrorists was hilarious. Because he's an orthodox Jew he's not available on Fridays but otherwise, "They call me so much at all hours I have to turn off my cellphone so I can get some sleep." (Read about Aaron's Schmoozing With Terrorists.)

There were too many other highlights to mention; it's all highlights when Batchelor returns to the microphone. However, I will note my happiness that the blogosphere's Bill Roggio appeared on John's show to discuss Iran's actions in Iraq. Bill has consistently been one of the best sources of news about the MNF campaign in Iraq, and he's a great guy to boot.

Some long-time Batchelor listeners might have been disappointed that John did not end his show with Kate Smith's God Bless America. But I greatly appreciated John's rousing tribute to democracy in lieu of Kate's singing. With only six hours of broadcast time, he needs all the show minutes in order to get across his points.

My only beef was the blanket condemnation of Blackwater and all private bodyguard services voiced by Batchelor and John Loftus. Believe you me, once you've had a machine gun pointed at you by a soldier in the pay of a ruthlessly oppressive government, you instantly learn that your top priority while in a conflict zone is to come back alive. If you don't have the stomach to carry a gun and shoot to kill in order to save your life and those of other innocents around you, then better put yourself under the protection of bodyguards who will.

Al Vinter said it well in an interview with Politixxx:
I am very strictly a journalist and chronicler. Of necessity, during the course of my assignments, I have sometimes had to carry a firearm. You can't go waving a press card over your head when people are taking shots at you. In the Sierra Leone war, there was a bounty of one million dollars for any white captured by the rebels. Do you think those bastards who were cutting off the hands and feet of children were going to concern themselves about any kind of journalistic ethics?
As for private armies, governments rarely have enough troops to spare for the bloodiest drawn-out conflicts. (Consider the US campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.) The private armies can help fill in the gap. This makes them a very dangerous force that needs close monitoring, but Loftus and Batchelor need to acknowledge that as long as men such as Viktor Bout are in the world many armies will be needed to fight in many small wars:
[...] Take Viktor Bout, a Russian air-transport magnate and the world's premier gray-market arms provider. Every year, warlords, gangsters, militiamen and terrorists kill tens of thousands of people in wars that are only sporadically reported to the outside world. They do their butchery using weapons obtained and delivered, to all sides of these conflicts, by Bout and his ilk. These are the real weapons of mass destruction in the post-Cold War world, taking lives and shattering communities from the slums of Baghdad to the jungles of Colombia, from the streets of Beirut to the impoverished diamond-mining hamlets of West Africa. [...]

These arms entrepreneurs almost always escape international sanctions because they don't work for any one state but have proved useful to many. Worse, much of what they do is not illegal, and the penalties for breaking the few laws that may apply are minuscule and entirely unenforceable.(1)
I also note that Loftus got it wrong when he named Executive Outcomes as a private military company (PMC). EO was disbanded in 1999, although the company may have gone through other incarnations and/or their personnel were absorbed by other PMCs.

The role of EO in Sierra Leone was very complex and had a murky side -- there was a rumor they supplied both sides in the conflict with arms. But EO ran the RUF out of Freetown, which prevented the RUF from slaughtering every unarmed citizen -- those left alive by that time after the RUF's rampages. The RUF eventually came back but that was only after EO pulled out.

The grim reality is that PMCs can be all that stands between wholesale massacre of citizens by rebel armies -- and, in many places in the world, the only thing standing between assassins/K&R gangs and their victims.

1) War and Terror Inc., Douglas Farah, The Washington Post Outlook section, September 23.

Sunday, October 7

"Effects comparable to the humanitarian disaster of Darfur but far less well known"

"... the Burma army ... rarely catches up with fighters and instead concentrates its attacks on civilians."
10,000 a year killed in secret jungle war
Civilians singled out and ethnic hill tribes targeted by the state army along Asia’s forgotten frontier
From Nick Meo in Mae Sot on the Thai-Burma border
Sunday Herald

HUNDREDS OF miles from the drama and trauma of Rangoon in the jungle-covered hills along Burma's border with Thailand, the Burma army was killing civilians last week.

They have been doing so for decades in one of the most remote areas of Asia. Unseen in a frontier where foreigners are excluded, a vicious war has been fought with effects comparable to the humanitarian disaster of Darfur but far less well known.

Nearly all of the ethnic hill tribes who inhabit Burma's frontier areas have suffered appalling atrocities in offensives which have singled out civilians for attack with brutality only rarely used against the majority Burman population in Rangoon or Mandalay.

The origins of Burma's long, painful civil war are complex, fuelled by an attempted communist revolution, the drugs trade, and ethnic conflict between Burmans and the country's patchwork of minority groups.

But for decades Burma's dirty little wars have been kept going by the army's poisonous ideology and the generals' lucrative private business enterprises dealing in gems, teak and, according to their enemies, opium.

As the Burma army expanded during the 1990s to become the world's 15th biggest force, it squandered more than half of the national budget on defence and became increasingly well-armed. Thanks to Burma's friends in China, many insurgent groups were forced to submit to the rule of Burma's generals.

Those which won't lay down their arms in ceasefire agreements have been pushed out of territory they held during the 1990s, fighting on in obscure jungle guerrilla wars in which the Burma army - the Tatmadaw Kyi - rarely catches up with fighters and instead concentrates its attacks on civilians.

One group to hold out is the Karen, one of Burma's largest ethnic groups. The Karen are largely Christian, and fiercely supported British troops during the second world war, though that didn't prevent Britain from shoehorning the Karen in with the Burmans when independent Burma was founded. The Karen had expected independence as a reward for their loyalty, but instead were embroiled in a war which is now in its 57th year.

These days the Karen National Union (KNU) says they would settle for autonomy, but attacks on their villages continue.

Attacks were stepped up in 2005 when the generals shifted the capital from Rangoon, where they felt vulnerable to an increasingly angry population, to Nay Pyi Taw, a former logging town on the edge of Karen State.

The military ordered the clearing of civilians from a huge area surrounding the capital with characteristic brutality.

In May last year exhausted farmers clutching their children began staggering out of the jungle where they had fled when their homes were burned, fleeing towards the border with Thailand which they were not allowed to cross.

Practically overnight, on a slither of jungle land controlled by the KNU, they built a bamboo city, complete with clinic and school, and planted crops. The Karen are nothing if not survivors.

Accurate casualty figures are difficult to come by, but some estimates suggest that 10,000 people a year, mostly civilians, are killed and thousands more flee. Around 2500 villages have been destroyed and, during years of conflict, between one and two million people have been forced from their homes. It is not unusual to meet elderly Karen who have been forced to flee dozens of times during their lifetimes from their childhood to their old age.

Human Rights Watch estimated that the offensive, which began in 2006, forced 27,000 Karen from their homes.

The Free Burma Rangers (FBR), a brave group of mainly Karen medics who venture into the frontier war zones, have tried to catalogue the atrocities. They record cases such as that of Naw Eh Paw, a nine-year-old girl whose grandparents were murdered in an attack on their village. Naw Eh Paw was shot, but survived.

An FBR report on the army's strategy said: "It is generally slow and insidious strangulation of the population rather than an all-out effort to crush them."

The worst atrocities take place in the so-called black zones, free-fire areas where anyone who moves can be killed by Burma army soldiers. Populations are enslaved, forced to become porters, who are commonly worked to death, or even used as human minesweepers. Disturbing evidence has been gathered of mass rape being used by soldiers against ethnic women as a weapon of war.

Other groups such as the Karenni and the Shan have suffered as badly. All are watching keenly to see if an upheaval in far-off Rangoon will bring an end to their suffering.

"We are hopeful," said Saw La Henry, a Karen politician. "Perhaps after all this time our war is finally about to end."

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