Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday Morning Push

There is no new discussion thread for today, mostly to allow me time to work on the Weekly piece.

Lots of things left to do with the existing discussion threads, and I'll be around to comment on them too. If that isn't enough, there is still this week's Open for you all to make your own fun.

Notices to All:

I will still be tracking comment activity this week, but not site view-counts, in an effort to judge the value of this forum for discussion.

As of now, there is only one "open" thread a week.

Again, what would help me best would be for each visitor to post at least one comment on any thread during the week, even if it is just a placekeeper to let me count you.

You may not comment on this thread. This is for administative purposes only.


Saturday, August 30, 2008


The latest from RFE/RL tells a predictable story...

And the ancient town of Akhalgori -- which dates back to the 2nd century BC --- is suddenly being called "Leningori" once again.

I'm not seeing an R2P explanation for Russian intervention working any more.

On the diplomatic front, Georgia has had enough (finally) of niceties. The Embassy has been recalled from Moscow, diplomatic relations are "severed" as of the 29th of August. Consular functions are still available in both countries.

The E.U. meets on Monday with Georgia at the top of the agenda.

On the Black Sea side of issues, the commercial port at Poti is back in reduced operations, but the naval harbor and considerable facilities space are not able to be used because they were mined. De-mining experts are being withheld until the Russian checkpoints are removed from the adjacent area (to prevent encounter risk). That may have to change if the Russians don't move out shortly.

Oblique note:

Looks like H. Chavez did follow the playbook after all.

Chavez supports Russian recognition of (Georgian) Rebel States

Way to go Hugo. Today... Georgia, tomorrow... Guyana.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Ok, challenge time: Who are you going to believe?

There was a recent air strike by an AC-130 in support of an ongoing joint Afghan National Army (ANA) - U.S. Army Special Operations raid on a compound in Afghanistan.

Operations day-report said: civilians fled the compound; 4 dead civilians in a crossfire; 2 more wounded and med-evac'ed by U.S. Forces; 20+ Taliban fighters dead.

Afghan local governor said: more than 60 women and children killed; He dodn't mention any Taliban.

Afghan National Government investigates by interviews in the area, and U.N. reviews of the same: 90 civilian dead, mostly children; "some" Taliban fighters killed.

U.S. DoD says: Five Civilians, Twentyfive Taliban

Please don't try to win me over to one position or the other, but feel free to validate or invalidate any or all of the claims.

If you need a hint as to my opinion, see all the press reports of mistreatment of al-qur’ān (the Koran) over the years.

edited: correction to line 1. h/t: mr. bill

End-Mid-Week open

As of this week, you only get one open thread until comment rates rise.

That which is not a thread topic, goes here. Also, any topic you want to bring back from the dead or any suggestions for a new topic, goes here.

caveat: the usual rules apply.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

No Go at the SCO

It seems that even in front of "friendly" audiences, the Russians are not getting a heck of a lot of support for territorial aggrandizement.

You thought the early EU statements were weak tea, look at this

Then again, could anyone have reasonably expected countries like the PRC to sign off on forcible detatchment of integral territory when they have issues like Xinjiang?

Look, guys, Russia is hurting for moral support here. "Red Bob" Mugabe, Hugo Chavez, Ken Livingstone... Bill Ayers... come on, this is your chance to show some appreciation for all the years.

Naw, I guess that since Russia became an autocracy in function if not form, even the old school won't sign on. Silly me for even suggesting it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

August 27th discussion item

On this, the 80th anniversary of the Kellogg-Briand Pact (Pact of Paris, 1928), we still find ourselves in a world with wars. Yes, in case you wondered, it is still as binding as ever (with specific exceptions) as law upon the U.S. and most other signatories.

But did this landmark effort to de-legitimize aggressive war actually matter?

Well, it was the basis for charges of "Crimes against Peace" in the post-WWII war crimes trials. It is considered the legal forerunner of the portions of the U.N. Charter (specifically Chapter 1, Article 2, Paragraphs 3 and 4) that oblige member states to foreswear the use of military force in conflict resolution.


Open Ground:

This is my way of hauling out the old "It is just a piece of paper" argument that questions whether any treaty matters when leaders of a nation or group are intent upon making war. But how can a State demand compliance with one treaty or agreement (see recent discussions of Russia vs. Georgia and of North Korean negotiations) when there are lots of examples that International "Lawyers" can wave around that says the same States making demands have also ignored agreements? Or is it really such a brutish world that rules that apply to others do not apply to the Strong?

Have at it!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I'm so Ronery...

What is it about Kim Jong Il that anytime world attention glances away from him and his petty fiefdom, he has to do *something* to get attention...

North Koreans not in compliance with six-nation agreement



Monday, August 25, 2008

The Forecast for the Black Sea is...


Read about Russian concerns and naval countermoves *here* at informationdissemination, one of the best professional milblogs out there for naval matters.

This thread will also be updated with Georgia-specific events over the next few days, if and when they come in.


Seems the U.S. DoD isn't playing along with the Russian claims of having "withdrawn". Words like 'not honoring Georgia deal' are coming out.


So much for diplomatic pressure, so far. Japan cites *grave concern*, and shortly thereafter word comes out the D. Medvedev signed off on "recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia". That was probably not the best move there on Russia's part, unless they really wanted to send a "the heck with you all" message to Europe...


Once more, the diplomatic game is on center stage. David Miliband, U.K Foreign Secretary (and usually leftist tool) is acting uncommonly competent by going to Kyiv (Kiev) and attempting to rally a broad coalition against Russian aggression. Luck to him on that.

Oh, and anyone caught repeating the Reuters "mis-statement" that U.S. Navy or Coast Guard vessels were supposed to dock in Poti with humanitarian supplies yesterday will be suitably pilloried here. It may yet be that an effort will be made to force Poti open, but *nothing from real sources at DeptState or DoD* says it is happening, yet.

The Weekly N&C for August 25th, 2008

What is this “Belarus”, or more directly, why is it *the* danger to the EU right now?

Geopolitics has gone more than a little out of fashion in International Studies these days, to no great surprise. As a concept, the relentless application of elements of this concept to every interaction between Eurasia and the rest of the world dulled the edge of what is in many ways a very valuable tool for understanding capability and motivation. Said applications and misapplications have attempted to simplify modern conflicts and questions as widely variant as: the Viet Nam War(s); movements toward European Unity; the break-up of the Soviet Union; and even the motivations for the Islamist movements that feed the ongoing War. But what Geopolitics was invented to explain, and what it is still best used in application to, is the vital role of Eastern Europe as the pivot upon which the fates of both Europe and Greater Asia turns.

Mackinder’s conceptual opposition to Mahan’s assertion that Sea Power was dominant in both war and economics was in part based on his apparent belief that given sufficient infrastructure, the large Heartland at the center of the Eurasian landmass could be equally efficient at transporting armies (or goods) as the ocean networks of sea-lanes and ports. It should be also considered that both he and Mahan wrote *before* the viability of airpower and air transport had been asserted. Still, the importance of land forms, river lines, and most of all the shape of borders in their relation to lines of transportation can not and should not be simply set aside even in this air-mobile age. In particular, salients (borders protruding into or out of an otherwise contiguous territorial space) are of immediate importance when analyzing geopolitical risks to nations, and corridors (in this usage meaning allowed pathways of movement through states to reach an otherwise inaccessible territory) are both the bane and boon of planners.

Let us dispense with corridors first, as they are of interest but not vital need in the further discussion. The bar-none *at risk* corridor of action in the Global War on Terror is the logistical pathway into Afghanistan. There are several, including air overflight permissions and such, but the key corridor is the overland route through Pakistan by which the bulk of material transport required to support NATO and U.S. military operations must move. This qualifies as a “tenuous” at best, although “endangered” would likely be more accurate, route. So long as Pakistan remains cooperative, and makes some attempt to keep threats at a distance from the corridor, this route remains usable. Were Pakistan to collapse into civil war, or turn openly hostile to the Afghan campaign, the Western Allies would be faced with the choice of losing this corridor or being forced to take military action to keep it open, with neither being of any benefit to the outcome of the Afghan campaign. With that vivid image in mind, it should be fairly easy to keep in mind that: (a) corridors are what you have to have when you don’t have what you want – contiguity, and (b) any time a military or economic effort can be determined to be (or reduced to by other action) a corridor, the opposing power is a single stroke away from denying the effort itself.

But where in all this academic talk is any connection to Belarus? For that matter, where in the heck *is* Belarus? Oh, it can be pointed to on a map, *here*. That isn’t the hard part. Where it challenges the mind is when the question is rephrased to be “what”, not “where”.

You see, to those whose national histories are a bit longer than oh say 232 years, it matters to say “what” a country is, and in this particular case it is a collection of principalities generally considered to be the bulk of White Ruthenia and all of Black Ruthenia. At least, that was the first English language name given to the region in the late 16th Century. The key part being “Ruthenia”, a Latin term given to the various Slavic peoples of the East and their territories outside Mongol thrall, that while often confused in the period with what we now call “Russia” is both culturally and ethnically different. Further confusion does come from the Polish use of “Rus” to mean “Ruthenian”, but let that be that.

Now in the time of those first English writings about White Ruthenia, that territory and a whole lot more were part of the dominant Eastern European territorial power of the age, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Historical Map. In the specific case of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, you can see by that map reference that what modern maps label “Belarus” was a rather substantial (and integral) part of the holding. So when did this whole idea that “White Russians” lived there come into being? Well, thanks to a little desire for territorial aggrandizement, the term was coined for use by Kate the Great… er… that would be Екатерина II Великая (Catherine II, the Great), ruler of Imperial Russia from 1762 to 1796 and one of the chief architects of the annihilation of Poland as a state for roughly 150 years. Now she wasn’t the only villain of the piece, and actually the Prussians had more at stake in the whole plot, but the result as far as Ruthenian lands went was entirely a Russian plot. Here is a competent summary of how she and the other “Black Eagles” pulled it off. But the key point to remember is that just as the people of (Western) Ukraine were dubbed “Lesser Russians” (vs. the Muscovite “Great Russians”), the peoples of European Ruthenia got dubbed “White Russians” purely to provide an ethnic claim to taking their territory and adding it to Imperial Russia. And this two-fold maneuver, combining the taking of most of Ruthenia with other acquired territory west of the Dnieper River (in present-day Ukraine), gave Imperial Russia what it really wanted: a very large salient, so large as to be arguably an integral and contiguous border space, that gave military and commercial access to *both* Central and Baltic Europe (the latter, a gain from landward).

Now it didn’t take very long for the entire rest of Europe (except maybe Portugal) to figure out that perhaps it was a mistake to let Russia get her foot in the front door. Counter efforts were constantly attempted, most being tried on what is considered Polish territory now, and one (the interwar Second Polish Republic) had a bit of success at survival to say the least. That all came to naught, for in the end, the massive effort that was the Soviet Union came to both *use* the power of the salient to carve out a post WWII Satellite-Empire in Eastern Europe, and then to *lose* it through unspeakably bad management… except, they didn’t lose Belarus.

It was a near thing, actually, that they didn’t. Since the 1950’s the Soviet regime had taken all manner of steps to try and expunge the idea of the region being separate from Russia, and many (like banning official use of the native language, and shooting much of the local intelligencia) were widely despised once they became known. The sheer joy of seeing the disintegration of the Soviet Union did sweep through the “Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic”, which had been given separate “nationality” inside the Soviet Union, and there were some amazing movements toward separation. Sovereign authority was declared on July 27th, 1990, and it became the Republic of Belarus on August 25th, 1991. A national constitution granting powers to a President that included the functions of Prime Minister was enacted in March of 1994, and…

…and then the wheels started to come off the cart.

An absolute political unknown, who got elected to the Supreme Soviet (Parliament) of the new Belarus in 1990, built a reputation of “fighting corruption” and was party to bringing down the Speaker of the Parliament (Stanislav Shushkevich). This otherwise unheralded newcomer by the name of Alexander Lukashenko became a candidate for the first Presidential Election, and after a run-off, won with 80% of the vote. Oh, and to answer before you ask, yes his name is “Lukashenka” when Romanized from Belarusian. “Lukashenko” is the form taken from Russian. Does that give you a hint where this is going? Good.

This fellow is a classic post-Soviet opportunist, and he did a pretty good job of playing West vs. East in his first few years in power. But after being re-elected in 2001 and 2006 in elections that would make Hugo Chavez and Robert Mugabe proud, his autocracy has pretty well worn out its international welcome. The U.S. Congress actually tired of his gamesmanship back in 2004 and passed the Belarus Democracy Act, which allows for funding of pro-democracy opposition. Predictably, this is considered insulting by the Lukashenko regime, and in return that government has pretty much decided to treat anything but neo-socialist (and generally far away) regimes as enemies. At the same time, the mask came off the doll as far as relations with Putin’s Russia: Since January 26th, 2000, a functional Union with the Russian Federation has existed. Since May 27th, 2008, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Union has been Vladimir V. Putin.

That is right. *That* Putin.

So put aside any and all thoughts of fair Ruthenia being a separate nation, one day to find freedom and acceptance in Europe again.

Instead, look at a map very carefully, and see that as long as Russia holds the salient that is Belarus under its domination, Russia holds a dagger that can reach anywhere from the West of Ukraine to the southern approaches of the Baltic States, with trivially easy access to Poland and the possibility of reopening a corridor to Kaliningrad (Koenigsberg).

Given the thinking demonstrated recently by V. Putin, it is reasonable and prudent to consider that he might just use it, too.

End Notes:

Several map citations and one text reference were made from Wikipedia. As always, check the sources cited on any item referenced from there.

A very substantial and regularly updated source of information on Belarus can be found at Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty‘s web site under their Belarus tab. Here’s the link:
RFE/RL Belarus
Please scroll down for current stories, listed in reverse chronological order.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Morning Push

There is no new discussion thread for today, mostly to allow me time to work on the Weekly piece.

Lots of things left to do with the existing discussion threads, and I'll be around to comment on them too. If that isn't enough, there is still the Weekend Open for you all to make your own fun.

Notice to All:

I will be tracking comment activity this coming week, but not site view-counts, in an effort to judge the value of this forum for discussion. *If* activity doesn't warrant the number of thread topics each week, expect there to be a revision in my practice of posting as many topics in the future.

What would help me best would be for each visitor to post at least one comment on any thread during the week, even if it is just a placekeeper to let me count you.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Weekend open thread

'Tis Friday and the days of rest come. If that rest includes posting comments, well then here is your place to do so.

caveat: the usual rules remain, only the topic is open.

I know, I'm stating the obvious again.

With friends like these...

Yeah, well.

One could say something similar about a lot of places (T.I.A. comes to mind), Pakistan is still Pakistan.

It remains a vast mass of supposedly religiously-aligned population run by a class of elites that have no understanding, appreciation, or care about the masses they govern.

With the resignation of (General) Pervez Musharraf from the presidency on the 18th of this month, the political conflict returns to its previous incarnation. Nawaz Sharif, the insufferable former Prime Minister who was ousted by Musharraf's coup, and the notoriously corrupt Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of B. Bhutto (and heir to control of her family's political machine) are now hacking away at one another in a resumption of their parties' vicious contest for power.

Here's the breaking news version of the events in progress.

All this against the backdrop of ongoing militancy in the Frontier Territories and the most successful suicide bombing in some time by extremists inside Pakistan proper.

The biggest problem for outside observers is, who ever wins: what are they going to do about the fact that their country is about two steps short of falling into outright anarchy?

Because you can bet that the Islamist-Tribalist factions and The Taliban are just loving what they are seeing of this so far.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

August 21st discussion item


One of the classic claims of the "superiority" of socialist political systems is the addition of various "Rights" beyond those commonly considered self-evident, often stating them in the national constitution.

Here are a few:

.The Right to Work: literally, the recognition as a "Right" that every person have employment they are compensated for. This is most commonly reflected in legislated doles, Welfare payments, to any who are not employed as compensation for the state not fulfilling their "Right".

.The Right to Wellness: this has two parts: The recognition in law of the state's obligation to protect the health of nationals (or even all residents) from known risk, and; The recognition as a "Right" of access to Health Care (sufficient, as defined by the state) irrespective of material means or social category (class, caste, et al)

.The Right to Education: that for so long as (to some upper level limit) formal education is desired, it is a "Right" to have access to such and again, that it be provided irrespective to means or category. This, however, is often also legislatively linked to the state being the "possessor" of the education so provided, and in the name of allocating state resources the person receiving the education loses some other "Right", most commonly Liberty = freedom to live and seek livelihood in a place of one's own choosing.

That is enough to start things, I think.

Open Ground:

This is a fun one as it has lots of open ground. It can be argued that there are no "Rights" beyond the famous self-evident ones of the Enlightenment philosophers. In converse, you might think there are "Rights" that are not sufficiently world-wide and should be spread. You might disdain the examples above, or think that they are just fine but as "Privileges" allocated to nationals (citizens, subjects) only, or in some moderated form.

Here's my first poke at it:

In Japan, there is no Right to Self-Defense or Mutual-Defense by an individual, armed or not. While Self-Protection is mentioned in the body of law, actual legislation only permits resistance necessary to escape. Any violence in excess of that purpose is technically actionable as the State exclusively reserves the use of force in defense. To my knowledge, there have not been any prosecutions, but the very possibility of a 72 hour police interrogation without legal representation present (standard for any investigation in Japan) is a pretty big deterrent to anyone wanting to oh say jump on a mugger who is attacking a third party.

I'll just say I disagree, and that I think the right to at the very least the defense of my person, family, and property is my inalienable right. Would sure be convenient if the national law agreed.

It is your turn now. What do you think?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Yes, as a matter of fact, I *am*...

Just a little snippet of the sideshow at the North Atlantic Council meeting (late) yesterday:

Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s representative to Nato, said that the west was hypocritical in condemning Moscow for its aggression while supporting Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s president. Mr Rogozin condemned Mr Saakashvili as a “war criminal” who had bombarded civilians and Russian soldiers in South Ossetia, provoking Moscow’s intervention.

Mr Rogozin added that if Nato had already accepted Georgia as a full member, then the western alliance and Russia would now be at war.

“Are you ready to risk your prosperity and risk your lives and the lives of your children for the sake of Saakashvili?” Mr Rogozin asked correspondents in Brussels.

citation above from the FT

**Personal Note to D. Rogozin from here.**

Now first of all, Rogozin, pick a different damn hypocritical act. There are plenty out there and *that* sure isn't one of them.

Second of all, Rogozin, threatening an entire political bloc is rarely the wisest of moves when they have the means (if not currently the will) to take your whole pathetic house of cards down around your ears.

And lastly, Rogozin, pack your bags. Because if I ever have seen a "diplomat" more deserving of Persona Non Grata declaration, it was because they were actually not diplomats. But here's a refresher course for you:

Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations Article 9, a receiving State may "at any time and without having to explain its decision" declare any member of a diplomatic staff persona non grata. A person so declared is considered unacceptable and is usually recalled to his or her home nation. If not recalled, the receiving State "may refuse to recognize the person concerned as a member of the mission."

-- wiki-p on diplomatic protocols. I chose that because they have it in Russian for you too. Here it is.

Yes, NATO is a supranational organization; yes, the same rules about accreditation apply there, and you know that.

Oh, and before you go... answer your "Are you ready...?" question...

Yes, as a matter of fact, I *am* quite ready.

Are you?

Now don't let the doorknob hit you in the ass on your way out.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

August 19th discussion item

What is it these days that makes us flinch so hard when battlefield casualty reports come in?

The French NATO troops in Afghanistan just had a terrible day by modern standards. Lost 10 dead and 21? wounded in a single engagement. Details are still coming in as to how, but that's not really the point. They died in a fight.

Financial Times article

Now I am aware of a number of cases where combat deaths in undeclared conflicts in the order of a dozen were simply swept under the rug (kept secret, families lied to), but that just re-enforces the issue. *What is it* about the current standard of life and living in the "First World" that makes even a single combat death news-worthy and worse, political fodder?

It is not like the history of (picking one country) American war is not laden with deaths. Yes, Americans in particular seem to prefer firepower rather than numbers in battle, so fewer soldiers are out there to be killed (but lots more damage is done to the places they fight) than many other countries, but still...

Look at this reasonably well-sourced list and scroll down to look at numbers like "Deaths per Day".

The numbers in most wars there, if they were reported today would be considered staggering.

Open Ground:

Two obvious courses available. Either: What is it about society that has changed? or; What is it about war that has changed?

And feel free to run with the implications of this considering the foes of civilization in the War right now are mostly willing to die by the score if they can kill one Westerner.

Have at it!

Midweek open thread

...because even living my lifestyle, Tuesday is no longer the weekend.

Heck, given the recent flurry of activity I have had here, maybe Sunday wasn't the weekend either. *sheesh*

Have fun and play nice. The usual rules apply.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Weekly N&C for August 18th, 2008

Broken Somalia

With all the other events happening in the wide world, one might think it is an odd choice to put the focus on Somalia for The Weekly this week. Don’t be alarmed (about that), there is once again a purpose to all of this and one that requires a bit of preparation.

Somalia, as it stands now, really doesn’t get much notice in the general media. This is likely because there is only so many ways reporters can retell another version of “Somali Pirates Hijack (another) Ship”. If it isn’t a luxury yacht of great size or one of the rare cases where the International Task Force nearby intervenes, it might not even make the wires any more. That task force, just to get us started is Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150) and is the naval component of Operation Enduring Freedom-Horn of Africa (OEF-HOA). For convenience, there are links giving some information on both.

Now with all that firepower in the neighborhood, one would think being a pirate, or an politically-motivated insurgent against the government, or an Islamic hard-line revolutionary would all be jobs with a pretty short life expectancy. On a couple of occasions, that has been the case, but not very often. All right, then what makes it so darn easy to be a malefactor in the judgment of the world and yet a perfectly successful fellow in Somalia? Rhetorically, why doesn’t the government of Somalia just clamp down?

That’s right, it is a trick question.

The government of *which?* Somalia, for one thing. There is a government, on paper and partly in fact now, but there has been a rather long time of clans and factions all playing musical chairs with Mogadishu being the prize. The result, up to recently, has left Somalia looking like someone mixed up the pieces from a bunch of jigsaw puzzles and just snapped some of them together almost at random.

Here’s the current list (might change tomorrow):

The Transitional Federal Government (TFG): this is the international effort to bring together anything resembling a government so that support can be brought to bear. From near defeat at the hands of a nasty Islamic Revolution, the TFG has been resurrected by massive public aid provided by Ethiopia (more on that below). The TFG has wide control and cooperation in Southwest Somalia, and holds the official capital of the country, Mogadishu. Less public aid comes from U.S. and European Forces operating deniably, and African Union troops operating publicly but in very small numbers compared to what will be needed to eventually set things right.

Jubaland: Also called the Trans-Juba. Clans of note are the Marehan, Ogadeni and Habr Gedir. This is the southernmost end of Somalia. It claims to be willing to reintegrate, and cooperates often with the TFG. However, there is a steady, low level cross-border insurgency with individuals and small groups crossing back and forth from Kenya and the warlord-in-chief has made separate peace(s) with the ICU and some of their supporters.

The Southwest: controlled by various clans, at one point revolted led by the Rahanweyn (Reewin clans). This region is supposedly reintegrated as the base of the TFG was at Baidoa until the recovery of Mogadishu.

Galmudug: controlled by, well, Hawiye sub-clans are dominant. Territory was formerly part of the Warlords of Mogadishu holdings (see your Black Hawk Down history primer, please), it separated when the Islamic Courts Union (ICU, more on them below) took Mogadishu. Currently the local administration is at odds with Puntland. This administration also supposedly supports the TFG, as they were liberated from the control of the ICU by Ethiopian and TFG troops.

Puntland: controlled by the Harti clan. This area is the literal “Horn of Africa”, the easternmost extent. It is also, due to that spectacular seacoast, a major den of pirates and smugglers. It claims to be willing to reintegrate with the TFG under a federalism-autonomy scheme.

Maakhir: run currently by the Warsangali (part of the Harti super-clan). This is a central area that is contested by both Puntland and Somailand (below). Upon examination of clan structure, this area is obviously linked to Puntland, but is deniably separate to localize conflicts.

Somaliland: This area that is the northwest extent of Somalia is completely dominated by the Isaaq clan. It has separated from Somalia by declaration, since 1991. Like Jubaland, this area was in colonial times a British territory (unlike the rest which were nominally or actually an Italian colony). This is a generally peaceful and well run territory, in stunning contrast to the rest of the country. Likely that is a major part of why they have no interest on reintegrating.

But wait, other than coastal pirates and clan rivals, where are the bad guys?

The Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and their al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab (“the boys”) militancy are the major foes of the TFG. They actually came within a hair of taking the entire country except Somaliland back in 2006. Only the Ethiopian intervention turned back the tide and as of now, the ICU controls no large areas of the country (lots of small pockets, though). In an ironic side note, piracy went down under the ICU’s efforts to enforce morality…

Here is a review of contributory players in this drama:

Ethiopia: Historical arch-enemy of Somalia, they were invited in by the TFG to defeat the ICU.

Eritrea: Enemy of Ethiopia, ally of the ICU and various factions as it serves them.

The African Union (AU): Technically, the peacekeeping effort is supposed to be AU run., however very few non-Ethiopian forces are in-country so far.

Djibouti. Functionally this country is a French protectorate, and it lies between Eritrea and Somaliland. It is the base of the U.S. military Horn of Africa taskforce CJTF-HOA, the land and air component of OEF-HOA.

Yemen: This country is not adjacent, but sits across the straits from Somalia. It is notable as (a) being in turmoil itself and (b) it was where the ICU leadership ran away to when their major forces got beaten in Somalia.

Current and recent situation:

Let me just give you a sample of what all has been happening.

17~18 August:
Shabelle reports fresh fighting in Mogadishu between Government troops and Islamist insurgents.

15~16 August:
50 killed 80 wounded South Mogadishu; Ethiopian Troops took 3 bombs, counter-fired wildly and shot up two minibuses.

The same story, more deaths confirmed by the BBC on the 16th.

A battle at Beletwein resulted in 13 dead, incl. 4 Ethiopian Troops. Attack was on a base; the counter-fire by artillery caused civilian casualties.

Clan raiders kidnap governor of Nugal, Puntland, after massive fight breaks out at illegal checkpoint.

Unpaid soldiers of Puntland raided the 54th Army camp and stole weapons (37 rifles plus ammo). They have been unpaid for months.

President of Interim Government Somalia (TFG) accuses Ethiopian General Gabre of taking bribes
from business men for private security and allowing Islamist rebels (ICU) to gain strongholds in Hiran and the Middle Shabelle regions of the Southwest.

Somalinet reports landmine attack on President's convoy going to the airport as he and the Prime Minister (who are at odds over the firing of the Mayor of Mogadishu) were
to fly to Addis Ababa for talks. AU moderation is expected at those talks. (Off-topic: recent peace deals with opposition leaders did not include al-Shabaab, the armed wing of the ICU.

13 Aug:
Ethiopia's government ordered General Gabre Heard as well as a colonel connected to the Ethiopian secret intelligence agency to return to the country for failing to perform their duties, a Press TV (Iran) correspondent reported Tuesday. They are widely accused of corruption as well.

More Piracy off Puntland, report from Bosasso: Japanese ship taken July 20th; Thai ship taken August 12th; Nigerian tugboat taken (week of the 11th).

Convinced things are a massive mess there yet?

Quoting United Nations Security Council Verbatim Report meeting 5902, on 2.June, 2008:

“…following the letter of the Transitional Federal Government to the President of the Council asking for assistance from the international community in its efforts to address acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships off the coast of Somalia the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a declaration authorizing nations that have the agreement of the Transitional Federal Government to enter Somali territorial waters to deal with pirates.”

That’s right, no more pirates hiding behind the supposed sovereignty of a still-broken nation. Once some of the better AU units are available, no more TFG messing around with clan politics and trading off favors trying to survive, either.

The gloves are off, and it is open season. Expect to be reading about it more, soon.

End notes: some very easy to look at sources for current news from the region:
Africa Desk of Reuters
General reporting, can sort stories by country.

All Africa dot com
News clearinghouse, many African newspapers are reprinted. Can sort by Country or by General Topic (Economics, Politics, Conflict and Security, etc.)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Kurta Bridge

This is a re-presentation of an item I commented into the end of The George Washington Manuever thread. I post it again here because this is *the* key item to understanding the situation at the beginning of the conflict.


This is a first-source in open source of the critical timeline events prior to the Georgian offensive (into South Ossetia) portion of the war.

The Kurta Bridge (near the end of the article)

...and this is the first reference to the satellite photos of Russian Armor in motion toward the Roki Tunnel *before* the situation fully developed.

August 17, 2008 3:16 PM

Sunday Morning Push

There is no new discussion thread for today, mostly to allow me time to work on the Weekly piece.

Lots of things left to do with the existing discussion threads, and I'll be around to comment on them too. If that isn't enough, there is still the Weekend Open for you all to make your own fun.

If any of you have experience using 3rd party apps / widgets on weblogs, do speak up. There has been some small discussion privately of either using Sitemeter or Feedburner (not really 3rd party, I know) on this 'blog, but before just slapping them in and turning them on, I'd be interested in hearing about your experiences with such. Thanks!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Anyone who complains is an enemy of the state...

...and you know what we do to Enemies of the State.

Yes, it is time for another Hugo update. No, we aren't going to talk about the State of New Hampshire accepting more Joe Kennedy / Hugo Chavez subsidized heating oil, although that too is noteworthy enough to throw in here.

In fact, what we have for today is really just a continuation of the 26 laws-by-edict story. You might remember the one about reorganizing the military (which put H. R. Chavez Frias as the Commander-in-Chief, by the way)? Well also in there was his National Militia... Just add 100,000 Kalashnikov Rifles and **SHAZAM!** instant armed rent-a-mob. Also rather convenient for the Cuban version of Neighborhood Watch.

Well it seems that last Thursday, local time there, General Ovidio Poggioli, former director of the Military Intelligence Division (DIM) made an appeal on Thursday at the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) to reverse six articles of the National Armed Forces Organic Law (Lofan). -- source: El Universal, in English

Now you would think that, being a matter of a "for the good of the nation" sort of appeal, this would be welcomed. Think again; this is Bolivarian Socialist Venezuela. "'Anybody willing to remove the Bolivarian revolution will attack the armed forces and we are clear on this matter,' said on Friday Defense Minister Gustavo Rangel Briceño"... which, in the original Spanish says more like 'Anyone trying to undo our Revolutionary changes to the Armed Forces is attacking (the revolution)' -- source of the confusing, but important quote: El Universal, in English again, the next day

Which brings us to the summary article. This pretty much wraps up the whole idea: "Commander in chief Hugo Chávez -an active military officer again, in addition to being the head of state- from now on will form an integral part of the armed forces. He will have specific command functions, as stated in article 5. Article 6 of the new law dispels any doubt in this regard. "The president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has the military rank of commander in chief and he is the top hierarchical authority of the Bolivarian national armed forces." For such purposes, he will have available a General Staff and will command also any military units, such as the National Bolivarian Militia." -- source: El Universal, in English, for the trifecta

Hugo is back in uniform, and has a full-on private army to backstop him against any challenges. All he needs now are the mirrored Ray-Bans and the oversize cigar and he'll be the perfect Generalissimo of the stereotypical Banana Republic of the movies. The pity of it all, of course, is that this is happening to Venezuela for real.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Weekend open thread

Once again, the weekend approaches, and here is your playground for things not covered elsewhere.

As always, follow the rules...

Heck, I even visit...

...Yasukuni and my uncle put several of those spirits in there (or Chidorigafuji, the dedication to the Unknowns here).

It is, I claim, a vital part of a nation's heritage that whether one believes in militarism, pacificism, or something in-between, so long as we have States ordering young people off to war we need to have places to remember the war dead.

Here is the Mainichi Shinbun's report on this year's August 15th visits to Yasukuni Jinja, the once-National Shrine established during the Meiji era to those who died in military service.

There are a couple issues here, though...

1) Since the American-led Occupation of Japan banned the State-religion form of Shintou, a private trust has run the Shrine. That trust would happen to also be rather unrepentant as to Imperial Japan's role in the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II.

2) Some one, claiming to have saved the ashes upon their cremation, brought the remains of 12 convicted Class-A war criminals (and 2 more almost-certain-to-have-been-convicted, who died in captivity) and the Trust claims to have mixed those remains in with the other two and half million or so remains of fighting men. The Trust has never "enshrined" the 14 into the rolls of the honored dead explicitly, but they did put up a seperate cenotaph to the memory of "their sacrifice".

3) And the unstated but ugly little trick... the Nation of Japan can't take the property of the Shrine back, even as a National Treasure, because the American-written Constitution of modern Japan prohibits any role of the nation in religion.

reap. sow. ((nods))

I've said it before. Time to amend the Constitution, my adopted brothers, for a lot of reasons.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

August 14th discussion item

Time for another odd one, just to give some folks a break from hearing nothing but war-death-pathos-fear topics.

(No, Ethos, Pathos and Logos were *not* the original Three Musketeers, thank you.)

Today's is a bit lighter:

[For this discussion, presume Schools teach enough Math, General Science, Primary Language, and college-entrance preparatory material.]
Given the choice of mandating five hours a week of a High School curriculum, would you choose to require...

*Second Language Training, specified. no choice which -- one example is here in Japan, where English is a "must-take" class in addition to kokugo (National Language), but no standard curriculum offers German, Russian, Korean, or anything else.

*Civics. -- comparative systems of government, detailed history of that country's constitutional system, rights vs. privledges, with lots and lots of community and regional involvement exercises.

*Religious Dogma and Law, again, specified. no choice which -- any "there is only one true word of (insert Deity name here), and this is it" religion would suit.

*Fashion Sense and Grooming. -- clearly, the only way to overcome the unwashed masses is to reform them through education.

*none of the above -- ok smarty, pick something else. But only one, and as for the others, try to justify it.

Have at it!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The George Washington Manuever

Here is one to ponder:

The Georgian Army seemed to lose cohesion and break contact before the city of Gori, but it also never lost the ability to sortie air assets, and there were no significant captures of Georgian Army formations in the lowlands... if at all (the fight at Kodori Gorge in Abkhazia is still playing out).

Now some excellent observers have reported that it is likely by the time of Monday the 11th local time, the Russians had degraded the Georgian military communications system to the point of failure... if that was the real communications network.


There is an interesting precedent, to pick one example from history's full satchel of such moments, where the survival of the Army was far more important than the defense of the vulnerable territory even to the point of conceding the major cities and the capital (for a time).

The retreat from New York. 1776.

The massive operational defeat at Brooklyn was only salvaged by the miraculous withdrawal across the East River...

The overwhelming power of the invader continued to turn defenses (the passage of British Navy vessels into the Hudson above Manhattan), and prepared defenses were either abandoned or near-useless. See a place called Fort Washington then (the Washington Heights of Manhattan today)...

Yet another radical and less-than-parade-ground-organized withdrawal was then made to the Jersey side at the last point secure up the Hudson...

The race was then on across Northern New Jersey, the pursuer unimpeded...

At Brunswick, 'Lord' Stirling and his 1,000 did not exactly "come back from Iraq on USAF C-17's", but re-unite with the main Continental Army they did...

And by December, George Washington and the Continental Army had made it across the Delaware River...

...with enough sting left for the Cause-salvaging Victories at Trenton and Princeton.


I've got a feeling about something here. Credit where credit is due, the implications are better said by Richard Fernandez ("Wretchard") over at Belmont Club:


Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney, USAF (Ret.) was just on Fox News calling for a NATO No-Fly zone over Georgia.

That would make Russia effectively the loser of the war. May it should be proposed just to get it on the table. That would set Putin’s gizzards churning.

Aug 12, 2008 - 7:30 am

Now why would anyone think that NATO would have the capability to even put such out there, diplomatically speaking...?


The American Advisers are staying with the Georgians...

Official U.S. Announcement

I've got rumors of 50+ Russian armored vehicles destroyed by ... a weapon not in the Georgian Army arsenal.

I've got a clear sign that the Russians woke up this morning to a severe reconsideration of their strategic objectives.

If, and I do say *IF*, the Georgians and U.S/NATO forces HAVE caused this reconsideration, well folks, it might just metaphorically be the days after Christmas, 1776 all over again.

August 12th discussion item

There are a few incredibly important events in the world of sports, ones that focus the attention of billions of people and allow national pride to run rampant in a contest that fulfills instead of destroys.

There is also a heck of a lot of money at stake.

The 2008 Olympics cost China more than they will recover, but that like all Olympics is simply money spent to buy a forum for national glory. Every modern Olympic host city has proven to be an incredible money-sink for the host country. But to the sponsors, the advertisers, and to the National Olympic Committees, the Olympics are a boon.

There are other world-wide events of similar impact. Probably the most famous everywhere *except* North America is World Cup, FIFA's national teams contest for soccer (football) supremacy.

The next World Cup finals will be held for a month, starting 11.June, 2010, in...

...South Africa.

South Africa?

The faint shadow of the Republic of South Africa? The one run by Thabo Mbeki (you sir are not Nelson Mandela) and likely soon to be run by Jacob Zuma, and both of them implicated in a wide corruption scandal? The same Thabo Mbeki who is the primary protector of Robert Mugabe's travesty of a regime in Zimbabwe (former Rhodesia)? The same South Africa with awe-inspiring rates of the crimes of Assault, Armed Assault, Murder, and the world's leading rate of Rape?

Tell me again how letting them host the World Cup is a good idea.

Open Ground:

Lots to go after here: Evil Corporate Sponsors of Sports; Euro-blindness to supporting corrupt regimes; The ruin of South Africa; African political nightmares in general; heck, feel free to go after this author for his arrogance of casting damnation on FIFA, the ANC, or the current regime in South Africa.

swing away!

I got to get me some of those voting machines...

It didn't exactly make headlines compared to other stories last week, but Bolivia just had a recall election calling into question President Evo Morales and all the State Governors. And the insidious political foe who called the election to try to bring down Morales was...


It was a trap. He took a page from parliamentary systems and basically called a snap election at the peak of his popularity, but in the midst of a constitutional crisis that could have led to devolution of the country.

Morales won. Three of the four biggest anti-Morales state governors survived. But there were political casualties.

Reuters, in English, on the effect of the outcome

So far, Bolivarian Socialism advances...

Midweek open thread

...because even living my lifestyle, Tuesday is no longer the weekend.

Today's sad news item, our friend and comment-writer Susan has suffered the loss of Tomasa, her beloved dog. Tomasa would have been 16 years old. My condolences, Susan.

Otherwise this is an open thread.

The usual rules apply.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Zhermanukov's March through Georgia.

This is a continuation thread for comments and information about the Georgia-Russia conflict.

The situation as of this time and date is one literally hovering on the precipice of a Russian campaign of extermination versus democratic Georgia. What actions the outside world will take, and what if any prudence will be shown by Russia, will become clear very very shortly.

The Georgians are still fully in the right, but history is filled with righteous causes that are ground under the boot-heel. May this not be one more...

The Weekly N&C for August 11th, 2008

When They Build Their Foreign Policy on the ‘Enemy of my Enemy’ …

It is one of the axioms of the Realist school of geopolitics, that when confronted with an enemy, it is desirable to seek assistance from others who also treat your foe as an enemy. Differences between the new-found friends can be put aside to make common cause, and in some cases, this happens. But history is replete with cases of ‘making a deal with the devil’ that compromises the standing of one or both the new-found friends. Worse, the very premise can be called to fault by the very fact that it ignores real grievances in the name of opportunism. Better by far would be to have exhausted the other three of the four permutations of the enemy-friend paradigm.

The simplest permutation is the ‘Friend of my Friend’ which, unless your ‘Friend’ was an extraordinarily poor judge of character, should result in the opportunity to make a new-found friend of equal advantage to both you and your ‘Friend’. In practical terms, this is called Extension of Membership in an Alliance and is the standard method of recruiting a coalition greater than any standing alliance. It is also nearly trivial to established States, but it bears mention in the case of newly recognized States seeking to establish a place in the international order. Timor Leste’s expansion of relationships from its favorable basis with Australia to closer ties with Japan (a 'Friend' of Australia) fits loosely into this model.

Likewise, the “Enemy of my Friend” usually leads to a simple judgment of what relationship to seek, albeit a hostile one. Indeed, the promise of taking such a view of a third-party’s relationship with your ‘Friend’ is the basis of meaningful defensive alliances. Where this gets statesmen into trouble is the case of having to choose between two unrelated ‘Friends’ that come into conflict, but it is arguable that a competent Foreign Ministry should be aware of such ‘Two-Friends’ conflicts as they arise and be in mediating before the issue comes to blows. Several case studies in recent times are available, including the Falklands Conflict, although in examination that case resolved itself as there was only one true ‘Friend’ involved.

The ‘Friend of my Enemy’ is a logical extension of the obvious, that anyone who supports my foe is likely not someone worthy of being treated as anything other than just another foe. But the allowed nuance of that third-party not being in *actual* conflict is the usual fodder of diplomats responsible for putting lipstick on the pig of their nation having provided aid and comfort to one party of a conflict publicly. For those nations provided with better spies than diplomats, being a third-party to a conflict in secret makes it very difficult to recognize, much less pin responsibility on them. This is also the favored way to engage in Proxy Wars, where four states (or more) align into an apparent conflict of two lesser states which is in fact the proxy for two greater and opposed states’ conflict.

So much for the recapitulation; there had best be some sort of application to all this. Very well, here it is. Statesmen, diplomats, policy -planners and upper-tier intelligence analysts are all responsible to their State for providing recommendations on whom to make deals with and on explaining the relevance of the intricate network of relationships and obligations that make up real world statecraft. The ability to clearly state to national leaders the real status of the network had best be the most important goal of all those whose place in life is to provide informed advice. Pointing out in no uncertain terms which nations align where regarding what crisis or conflict is the advisor’s job. Making policy *and then following it* is the leader’s job, without conflating separate conflicts, without falling into the trap of the international chess game image. There may well be on “those who are with us and those who are against us”, but that never lines up as just the two colors of chess pieces on the board. It was never close to that even in the great polarizing conflicts of the 20th Century, and it certainly isn’t amenable to that image now.

Here are some lessons from the archives:

The compromise of principle required for Great Britain to be in the same alliance as the Soviet Union (opposing the Axis) was pure opportunism. Just as soon as the Soviets became the “Enemy of my Enemy”, it would have been pretty close to suicidal to ignore the possibility of cooperation. But, and this is the big “but”, there was a reasonable recognition on the part of the British government that calling the Soviet Union a ‘Friend’ was at least a risk. The Roosevelt administration in the U.S. never got that understanding, never effectively moved to reduce cooperation as the course of the European part of the war became predictable, and left itself wide open to all matter of abuses of the relationship in the last year of the war. This persistent blindness to the absence of ‘Friendship’ on the part of the Soviets (who saw it all a “useful”, but never deluded themselves as to the relationship’s depth) led to repeated compromises of principle by Roosevelt which once begun almost preordained concessions at Yalta and abominations like Operation Keelhaul. The only clear case of clear-wittedness on the part of the Americans was the refusal to supply B-29 bombers as part of Lend-Lease, and even that became moot within years with the TU-4 copy being a success. The Truman administration did come to see the folly of the relationship, but perhaps a year later than would have allowed for a reversal of Roosevelt’s compromises.

Again from World War II, here is a case in a reverse perspective. France and The Netherlands were entirely beholden upon Great Britain for any liberation after their respective defeats by Nazi Germany, or in the terms of our discussion above, Great Britain was their last ‘Friend’ (irrespective of capability, the British being pressed within an inch of defeat themselves). Words of sympathy not withstanding, American considerations of the need to enter the War in Europe were based on their relatively recent close relationship with Great Britain, not on promises of coming to the defense of either France or The Netherlands. Indeed, the fiercely anti-colonial stance of the Roosevelt administration almost precluded a relationship of mutual respect and trust. But as soon as opportunity (and necessity, regarding the Dutch East Indies) presented itself with the American entry into the war, both the Free French and Free Dutch governments-in-exile happily engaged with the deep-pocketed Americans to supply the means for their homelands’ liberation. But they didn’t engage in the same way. The Free French made it fairly clear to the Americans that this was a relationship of convenience, one that would be paid quid-pro-quo with America gaining vital assistance in North Africa and the South Pacific islands for providing France the means to take pride of place in the liberation of the French homeland and assume parity to Great Britain in the Alliance. When there was pressure from the Americans, they played the British off against them, and vice versa when there was pressure from the British. The Free Dutch made no attempt to parley advantage and remained an element of the British force structure except in the brief ADBACOM naval structure, and that was only in the Pacific theater. They received American materials and supplies, and took their place in the line sure of American respect and ‘Friend’ status. The difference in engagement was telling in the long term. Yes, the Axis was defeated world-wide. But while both the liberated French and Dutch were provided the means to begin to reassert control over their former Asian colonies, the influence of the Roosevelt administration’s anti-colonialism remained, and both were pressured almost immediately to give up the fight when independence wars broke out. The Dutch were outright betrayed in the Dutch East Indies as the Americans moved their support to recognizing the rebellion as soon as they realized it wasn’t a communist plot, and the Dutch were simply unprepared militarily and more importantly diplomatically to deal with the loss of a ‘Friend’. The French were also being abandoned regarding their former colonies, but love-him-or-hate-him de Gaulle and his government were at least prepared for American disapproval and made a respectable effort of retaining their colonies (for a decade, but that loss came for different reasons). The policy of cooperating but not blindly befriending the Americans served French interests better by far than the Dutch approach of ‘playing on the team’.

The sort of clarity of vision that would reveal those distinctions is a thing most certainly lacking from the diplomatic and politics-international of the U.S. government today. Whether in matters of how America deals with other States, or in American expectations of how other States will relate to America, political blindness and the conviction that domestic politics trumps international relationships continues to bemuse outside observers.

There are several relationships utterly clouded by American missteps right now. Most are not past the point of recovery, but an application of even the simple permutations discussed above makes prudent course far easier to perceive:

South Korea: It is less than honest to take a ‘Friend” relationship for granted. They see America first and foremost as the ‘Enemy of my Enemy’ vis-à-vis the North Koreans, and America should see them as students of de Gaulle. But the opportunity to cement the ‘Friend’ parts of the relationship with lasting peer-level ties only comes when governments amenable to improving the relationship are in power, on both sides. Completing the transfer of national defense command and passing a Free Trade Agreement are only going to make things better if governments in both countries can use them to show that real friendship can be built. Otherwise, between nationalist (and leftist) tendencies in South Korean political thought and American factions willing to treat them as rivals, the South Koreans are frankly better served looking for better protection than the bilateral relationship promises… and that certainly doesn’t serve American interests.

Latin America (part1): This one is tricky, so bear with me. Iran is an avowed ‘Enemy’ of America. Iran has a ‘Friend’ in Lebanese Hezbollah (if not an utter toady). Lebanese Hezbollah has relationships in the expatriate communities present in the Tri-border Area of South America and in Venezuela. In the case of Venezuela, the current government makes considerable political hay from opposing American interests. That same Venezuelan government is a sponsor of the current brand of South American Communism, backing influenced governments (in Bolivia and Ecuador) and engaging with the more traditional Communist Parties in Cuba and Nicaragua. Does this make Nicaragua’s current regime an ally and ‘Friend’ of Iran? Not a chance. It makes them opportunists looking for Venezuelan and Iranian money to line their pockets. Immoral, yes, but a separate opponent of American interests, not a ‘Friend of our Enemy’ Iran. They are a part of a linkage that can be cut, and managed separately. Are the client states of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Socialism ‘Friends’ of Iran? Again no, they are not, but as those States are more closely linked to Venezuela right now, there is more risk of them acting in Venezuela’s perceived interest. *That* interest is served by Venezuela being a ‘Friend’ of Iran as the Chavez regime gains from the unfettered support they can buy or be gifted from Iran and they perceive no threat from Iran to Venezuelan interests. Iran sees the ‘Enemy of my Enemy’ in Venezuela’s opposition to American interests, and the opportunist moment to use the access to Venezuelan banks, airports, and diplomatic documentation to further its own goals against American (and indeed Western) interests. This linkage is one of immediate peril to the U.S. and should be treated as such. Venezuela itself is not the peril, but the linkage certainly is.

Latin America (part2): The Uribe government in Colombia has been treated in part by the American government as the ‘Enemy of my Enemy’, where the ‘Enemy’ of note is the narco-terror elements of both the arch-left and arch-right in the Andean region. Recent events have proven however that Colombia is a ‘Friend’ in their own right, an ally and a loyal one. That is the way Colombia wants to see the U.S. as well, and recognition of that fact would serve America well. Strengthening that linkage has begun, but more needs to be done. Real alliance, Free Trade Agreement, and the sort of discussions over differences befitting the conduct of two mutually respectful States is in order.

Eastern Europe and the Black Sea coast: Let the example of the Baltic States be our guide there. Honestly grateful for European Union and American support and now alliance, there are no better ‘Friends’ of the West to be found now than the Baltic States. Their capacity to contribute is limited by their size, but pound per pound they are as good as they come. The opportunity to provide the same commitment, at the same or lesser risk, to Ukraine and Georgia is in hand. Both those States have made the intellectual adjustment of seeing the West as ‘Friend’ instead of “Enemy of my Enemy” (the ‘Enemy of the first part being the threat of Russian Imperialism reborn), and have made commitments in social, economic, political, and military terms to show that ‘Friendship’, especially when asked to do so. America has asked, and they have answered to the best of their abilities. The failure to recognize that would be the most shameful betrayal since the Lancaster House Accords, and less able to be rationalized.

There are lessons complex in even the simplest labels of diplomatic real-politics. The Americans, and the West in general, would be better served in what ever conflict or crisis that is occurring by understanding the linkages of interests, ‘Friend’ or ‘Enemy’, and doing a far better job of standing by the true ‘Friends’ they have.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday Morning Push

From here, Sunday evening, but so it goes...

There is no new discussion thread for today, mostly to allow me time to work on the Weekly piece.

Lots of things left to do with the existing discussion threads, and I'll be around to comment on them too. If that isn't enough, there is still the Weekend Open for you all to make your own fun.

To repeat again what was said in Comments here, my thanks to "see-dubya" at for giving the August 4th N&C a cameo appearance over there.

Welcome to visitors following his link to us!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

August 9th discussion topic

Looks like in amongst the usual mis-steps and idealistic hopes that dominate the efforts of the U.S. Department of State, some small moment of good sense has prevailed regarding the Six Party Talks on North Korea.

from Kyodo, via The AP, via Breitbart

Key Point:

The belatedly delivered and likely still incomplete North Korean letter on the status and composition of their nuclear weapons program will not be accepted without a verification regime, and North Korea will *not* be delisted from the List of State Sponsors of Terrorism until that system is in place. Great news this, as the Bush Administration had actually cleared the hurdles for a delisting any time after Sunday (tomorrow).

Open Ground:

The two issues, Nuclear Armaments Proliferation and State Support of Terror, have been linked in the Six Party Talks, along with a plethora of other issues. The lead U.S. negotiator, Christopher Hill, has been reviled in some quarters as "Kim Jong Hill" for allowing almost any topic the North Koreans want to be linked in... Is this the way to go? Is the U.S. looking for a complete diplomatic solution to the problem of relations with North Korea, or just playing along to get progress on the nuclear issue? And of course, the big issue: do you actually think the North Koreans will ever actually live up to any agreement they sign on to?

Dig in!

Weekend open thread

Here is your open thread for the weekend.

As always, play by the rules...

Friday, August 8, 2008

August 8th discussion topic

In Chinese lore "eight" is associated with prosperity and good fortune, so it is only fitting that the eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth year was selected as the opening day of the Beijing (Peking) Olympics.

But all is not of one heart, one body in the one China...

From Kyodo News, via The AP, via Breitbart

Key Points:

The KMT (Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, of China) has always been far too willing to link arms with the Communists if they thought it served opportunity, and they are back at it again now that a KMT government is running Taiwan. The modern Olympics have always been a political event (see: 1936; the non-year 1940; 1980; and 1984 for just the simplest examples). This time they have been awarded to the PRC, for good or bad.

Open Ground:

Please feel free to cheer or boo the Beijing Olympics, but do give reasons. There is another tack regarding the specific article cited, too: You know, Taiwan wasn't always China and even when it was, it often was a rather loosely grasped addition to the Middle Kingdom... Will having the games in Beijing, fulfilling one of the great goals of Chinese Nationalism in the last century, move Taiwan closer or farther away from (re-)unification?

The Georgian side of the story

The fight is on for South Ossetia as of late yesterday. Here's the report in the Financial Times telling the Georgian side of the story:

Georgia accuses Russia...

If you'd rather have the Russian version of the tale, The AP is dutifully printing tales of woe from their stringer. Go look on the wire service reports. I won't dignify them by repeating them here.

There has been a statement out of the offices of NATO, calling for an immediate end to Georgian military action. I'll presume that is fear speaking, but I had hoped for better from the alliance. The UNSC has shown better sense, so far...

9.August ERRATA: The NATO statement as released calls on all sides to cease.
NATO SecGen Statement

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Some Anniversaries are of bad things...

Today is the tenth anniversary of the simultanious American Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Those attacks killed nearly 250 people, and injured thousands more, and not all the major players responsible have been brought to either justice or a mortician yet.

Here's the story on the memorial event in Tanzania:

From The Citizen, Dar es Salaam

and here's the current status of running the rabbit on one Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who I have a personal hope jumps back over the border into Somalia where a 'Task Force 88' detachment can just get it done:

From The Nation, Nairobi


August 7th discussion item

It is time for a fan favorite: anything about Hugo...

The latest episode in the disaster that is Bolivarian Socialism is that with just a few more days left in his "rule-by-decree" allowance, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has decreed a package of 26 new laws. Now this would usually be greeted, even inside Venezuela, with a collective sigh and little else. It is not like he is threatening to invade Guyana again, or to go to war with Colombia (openly), or to attack the running-dog-capitalist-gringo-menace at any opportunity. That *usually* makes page 13 of a couple newspapers.

No, amazingly this time The AP actually got the story out, and in some detail:

From The AP via the NYT

Now just in case you aren't willing to take the chance that a wire-service will actually bother to cover a story about Venezuela, here is the *best* insider's view of what is going on in country there. I have selected his particular posting about this same event:

Venezuela News and Views

Key Points:

While it seemed that popular opposition to Chavez had quieted a bit (mostly from fatigue) recently, several of these new laws are just so aggregious that it looks like things are going to heat up again. A small protest came this week; Look for more and bigger on Saturday when a major protest is to be attempted.

Open Ground:

Besides the usual "how bad is it to have a guy like this running a country that the U.S.A. is supposed to be able to depend on?", lets go ahead and open it up to the two risky issues: At what point does the Chavez regime become another Cuba? and, Were things to turn that way and he become (like Castro's regime, in the 70's in particular) a threat to neighboring states, what if anything can and should be done? Clarification: I am well aware that there is a strong argument that the Chavez-Correa-Morales connection is looking a whole lot like a threat to everyone around them right now. I simply consider that it could get even worse.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

August 6th discussion item

This is just throwing a wild hare, er... hair, into the mix.

All the talk last week of (paraphrased)'not looking like those other Presidents on the dollar bills' brought to mind an amusing thought:

While the U.S. Founding Fathers were a cleanshaven bunch in the most part, the two Presidents of the 19th Century most famously pictured on the obverse of modern Federal Reserve Notes are Grant and Lincoln, both handsomely bearded fellows. On the outmoded larger notes, McKinley is cleanshaven but Cleveland is moustachioed. Probably the most famous Presidential visage *not* pictured on the notes (but carved into Mt. Rushmore) is T. Roosevelt, the possesor of a proper gentleman's moustache as well...

So here's the discussion point:

If a candidate for President *today* was bearded, would you notice?

pre-disqualified answer: "If She had a moustache..." No, you wise-acres, a male candidate.

Have fun!

So much for Civilian Control...

Once again, a story about a country one likely doesn't think about very much.

From The AP, via our friends at FOXNews

Mauritania is another of those Arabian-African nations where the general Western reaction to any events there is "Where?", but a little more attention is in order.

Key Points:

Mauritania has, since 2006, been the focus of new-found oil developments.

Mauritania is also the western edge of the Magreb, which has become a focus for al-Qaeda activity in North Africa. AQIM is the former Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat which has made life miserable in a wide swath of North Africa from their origin point in Algeria.

The Military of Mauritania is supposed to be a contributory force to Operation Enduring Freedom - Trans Sahara and is in part funded by the U.S. Government's Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative.

...your tax dollars at work.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Midweek open thread

...because even living my lifestyle, Tuesday is no longer the weekend.

CAVEAT: The usual rules apply.

August 5th discussion item

So U.S. President George W. Bush has arrived in South Korea on the first leg of his trip around Asia...

...and the protesters are ready to go after him.

Challenge time: Name two topics that these South Korean rent-a-mobs, er, protesters will be ranting about and why for each.

Hint: I'm NOT talking about protesting anything about the ongoing American or NATO wars.

Give it a go, won't you?

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Weekly N&C for August 4th, 2008

Why is it acceptable when *they* do it?

One of the great defining changes in the post-1948 world is the accepted association of a People with a given Territory. This tenet holds that even if dislocated by war, a populace is considered rightfully claimant of a “return” to the lands they are associated with. This matter is one of the most stridently argued issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and has been hauled out in almost every regional conflict in the last 50 years. A strong argument can be made that it was the issue of the intentional displacement of non-Serb population in the former Yugoslavia states during the wars of devolution that brought international intervention.

There has been Sectarian Separation, Displacement, Refugee Movements, and Ethnic Cleansing, usually all on sort of a sliding scale of doing what is needed to chase out (or worse) any significant rival for local population dominance. Sounds like a cut-and-dried case of aggression if not genocide, right? But wait…

One of the greatest tricks of “playing the system” in the post-1948 world is an improvement on the time-honored practice of creating a plurality of one ethnic group in a territory where few if any of that group existed over a longer period of history. With sufficient migration over time of a group that also does not integrate into the culture of the extant society in a territory, with demographic advantages such as a higher birth-rate than the locals in many cases, and with the cover of some larger event like warfare denuding the land of a portion of the local population, it is far too easy for the “new” group to claim that they are *now* the legitimate populace of the territory. One needs look no further than Kosovo to have seen such a thing in action.

Ironic, isn’t it? The very mechanism that has allowed for the existence of Israel, but in that day marshaled the opposition of the entire Arab world, in the case of Kosovo brought the forces of the Western world in support of the interloper. How the world changes, or does it…?

There is one country that has, since their glory days of empire, methodically chosen pieces of land near to its borders or in the hands of a weakened foe and given the first opportunity orchestrated the cultivation of an “indigenous” population of their predominant ethnicity. In times of overt war, they even hauled out the resident population and either expelled or killed them. In more peaceful but hegemonic times, they encouraged massive influxes of their group into lands where the locals had lost control of the levers of power. Some insidious plan, perhaps the Han Chinese migrations into Tibet, you say? Mere amateurs compared to the case I am about to make and besides, there is considerable international attention drawn to Tibet. Same goes for the Sudanese efforts to displace populations in regions of the country not of the governing culture or ethnicity. Both of those struggle to make a dent in the massive population and long cultural history of the “real” indigenous population. Those are both foul and under current interpretation “illegal” efforts, and as long as they remain in the public eye, have no more hope of long-term success than the Partitions of Poland.

But one ongoing effort, almost indiscriminant as to who is victimized, has run almost without hesitation since the dying days of the Second World War: Russification. This is the determined, grinding, never-yet-reversed effort to hold every piece of ground taken by the then Soviet Union that wasn’t a whole-cloth Imperial conquest or the “liberation” of an ally. Yes, stories of one place or another make the news-wires from time to time. The most recent ones, if you noticed them as they flashed by in the cloud of other news, speak of places like South Ossetia. But if this and other matters are to be resolved, it will take as big a change in the thinking of the Russian government as happened when they realized that the “Internal Empire” of the Soviet Union was no longer viable. So long as the Putin-Medvedev government draws a big part of its patriotic support from proud rejection of the claims of perceived lesser-states, that isn’t going to happen any time soon. But this isn’t 1948 any more, and given the shifting alliances and new precedence of Kosovo, don’t expect this to just go away, either.

Here’s a brief look at the places you might want to perk up and notice when the rare news coverage goes by. Some of them are in a peaceful stasis, in others things could flare up or have already started to:

Old News:

Kaliningrad: used to be Konigsburg, Germany. “Native” Germans all fled, died, or were expelled. But even with all the Russians brought in, the Lithuanian locals still don’t concede to being a part of Russia. It is no longer contiguous to Russia since the Baltic States gained regained their independence.

Northern Territories, Sakhalin and the Kuriles: Respectively Japan, both Russia and Japan, and traded a couple of times between them over 150 years. Although there was never much population in the far north, what Japanese that lived there were killed or forcibly expelled. The four islands of the Northern Territories have *never* been claimed by any other nation than Japan.

Post-Soviet Issues:

Ukraine: massive ahistorical presence of Russians in the eastern 1/3 of the country, plus the longstanding Russian population of Crimea. No military intervention, but lots of economic, political and subversive things happening. The Party of Regions is the Russian faction in this drama.

Moldova: with about one-tenth the area of the country a functional Russian protectorate (that would be the part with all the industry and valuable stuff) it is a wonder that we even speak of Moldova instead of just a part of Russia. The local Russian Army commander pretty much runs the pro-Russian part. In a particularly ironic moment, when the Government of Moldova asked for E.U. to condemn the Trans-Dniester breakaway, Romania used the discussion to renew *their* claim to the other part of Moldova. At least they haven’t invaded yet.

Georgia: no, not that Georgia, the one on the coast of the Black Sea. Three districts are actively up in arms against the Government of Georgia, and have been so since the early 1990’s. They get away with it because they “did it right”: Beat the daylights out of the legitimate government’s army and then burned and murdered and panicked into refuge the entire “native” Georgian population, and they did it while no one was watching. No one remains there but Russians now. The problem seems to be, Moscow can’t figure out how to get away with outright annexation since Georgia regained some of its ability to stand up for itself starting about three years ago. But Russian Army “Peacekeepers” are on the ground in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in numbers, to “protect” the ethnic Russians… who are also now Russian nationals as Moscow has issued passports to them all.

This is the one to watch, by the way. The Georgians have advanced by leaps and bounds in their capability to defend themselves over just the last six years. Think of them as if they were the Colombian Army in South America: Once famous for losing wars to villagers, they are getting help in equipment and are hardened from years of fighting on their own soil against mortal peril. The Georgians are still no match for the Russian Army, but that isn’t the measure: All they need to do is keep making things so hot for the ethnic Russian interlopers in Abkhazia that the Russian Army has to keep intervening, which gets them bad press in Europe, which gets Georgia more support to get stronger. The danger, of course, is that someone miscalculates and Georgia and Russia end up at war.

My prediction: The Russians aren’t going to get away with the land grab this time. The Government of Georgia may fight to reclaim the territories, may make political noises, may even offer a political buy-off to some of the interlopers to get them to go back to being loyal Georgians again, but they are not going to quit. So expect to hear lots more about this one, but look with a jaded gaze upon claims of "aggressive" Georgian Army attacks on Abkhazia or South Ossetia. Like I argue with folks about any possibility of Japan “fighting” to take back the Northern Territories, “It isn’t aggression if you are fighting on your own damn land.”

Sunday, August 3, 2008

This just in from Colombia...

This seems to be so new that none of the English-language wires have it (yet).

From my superb Spanish-language Open-sources Researcher:

There's news in the Spanish-language press that the Colombian army wounded Alfonso Cano a couple of days ago and that they now have him and "Mono Jojoy" surrounded.

Noticias24 Story

Key Point: These would be two of the ever-shrinking number of big fish left in the FARC. Taking them down after all the other hammerblows that have fallen on the FARC may well turn things from piecemeal defeat into a rout.

In charge of "sensitive files", eh?

Here's a compare-and-contrast about an item on the wires right now:

Reuters runs this story as this:

but Ya Libnan runs it with *a little more* insight:

Key Points:

The officer in question was Syria's ranking military liaison with Lebanese Hezbollah. Reuters chose to leave out that little detail.

Sunday Morning Push

Well, it is still Sunday morning somewhere...

There is no new discussion thread for today, mostly to allow me time to work on the Weekly piece (it'll be the first one, so it needs to set the standard).

Lots of things left to do with the existing discussion threads, and I'll be around to comment on them too. If that isn't enough, there is still the Weekend Open for you all to make your own fun.

Sure is great to see folks wander by. Muchly appreciated!

Administration note: It does seem that blogspot does not allow links in comments by default... *new discovery!* But wait, if you use the "a" function in HTML tags, like this:

(replace {} with <> to make this functional)
{a href="http://the URL you want/"}some words{/a} get a hot link. Yay.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

August 2nd discussion item.

This is your reminder that the Two Week (or so) Deadline given to Iran about complying with the ultimatums issued to them to cease nuclear enrichment activities runs out this weekend...


...give or take a day or two...


...yeah, we really mean it this time.

Key Points:

Presuming anyone will actually follow through on things this time, it could actually be push-comes-to-shove time. The GovIran is certainly making all the appropriate noises of a cornered rodent about this. "...will use force against our enemies..." and all that.

Open Ground:

Rather than jumping all around the issues about the current Iranian regime, let's keep our eye on the nuclear ball here. Is what the European faction doing ever going to win meaningful concessions from Iran? Have the Russians and the PRC come over to the European viewpoint of this matter and will they then at least stand aside when more UNSC sanctions come down the pipe? Or is this just another example of a determined foe making fools of the IAEA and various Foreign Ministries to play for time? Will this come down to a shooting match to decide things?

Ready? Go!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Weekend open thread

This is the place for all those random thoughts, political or other, that you feel should be out here in public view.

CAVEAT: This is not an invitation to mayhem, and comments that run wildly astray will get deleted with no further notice.

Oh, joy. Fukuda reshuffles the Cabinet.

Had to look around a bit to find this in English, but here it is:

from Kyodo wire service, via The AP, via Breitbart

Looks like we get...

...a bunch of Liberal Democratic Party insiders. Four non-economics types got the major Ministries responsible for the economy. A first-timer (from the Upper House, the retirement home) as Defense Minister...

...and no sign of Ms. Koike.


August 1st discussion item

Our topic for this day comes from a story most widely distributed in the New York Times.

Here's their story (link):

Key Points:

While there have been various public mutterings for years as to the trustworthiness of the Government of Pakistan and its military agencies as allies in the GWOT, this story reports the first public admission by American Intelligence sources that actual intercepts and/or confirmed linkages are in hand that the ISI (Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistani Armed Forces) directly provided information and direction to a "Taliban" bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul.

This also appears to be the first time American Intelligence (specifically the CIA) was willing to go on record as having demonstrated to the Government of Pakistan that such confirming evidence is in hand.

Open Ground:

There is a lot to cover on this one. The two authors of the NYT article are noteworthy both in their publication history and for the quality of their previous work. There is always the question of "why" the NYT would publish this article, and "why" at this time. And then there is the entire can-of-worms as to: Pakistan; the Taliban; Afghanistan; Indo-Pak relations; ISAF(NATO)-Pak relations; and more. If you'd care to take a U.S. politics spin on this, the Open Ground there is obviously a matter of should the U.S. continue to give Pakistan money to support the GWOT...

All right then, Have At 'Ye!


Welcome, friends. Please introduce yourselves, come in and look around. This is just a start, so I expect to see several familiar faces. Once things get established here, this thread will exist as a place for new arrivals to introduce themselves as well.

I do hope this can be of service to everyone, and as enjoyable and interesting to you all as it surely will be for me to be a part of.

With no further ado, let us begin!