Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Morning Push

There is no new discussion thread, 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.

There are no admin matters of note; all goes well.

As always, thank you for coming here!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Your system is our weapon

The legal concept of Universal Jurisdiction has taken a beating recently over how utterly disabled the Western response to acts of Piracy has become, but that does not mean that the tool is not available to use... our foes, against our friends.

It is said that the only thing to do when the world is upside down is stand on one's head, but some days this author just wants to grab the world, give it a good hard shake and set it back upright again. But we all know that just is not going to happen.

Globovision under challenge, again

Venezuela's independent broadcaster Globovision, which has (barely) survived repeated attempts by the Chavez administration to shut them down, is under challenge, again.

It is likely that this time they broke the letter of CNE (Election authority) rules, but to have Conatel (the National Telecommunication Commission) place them under challenge for political reasons does seem to rather exceed the authority of that agency.

After all, it's *not* like they broadcast an unflattering story about Russian and Venezuelan presidential bodyguards getting into a scuffle, or spread some elsewhere unreported rumor about a Russian delegation getting robbed in their Caracas hotel, or something...

OPEC Cairo Meeting

The first news flash is in as to the results of the OPEC meeting in Cairo today:

From the AP: "OPEC does not announce new cuts at Cairo meeting."

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and allies managed to stand fast, if only for a bit longer.

There has to be some kind of dismay in the halls of power in Iran and Venezuela right now... and by reflection, in Russia as well.

Something to be thankful for -- feline edition

The actual story is from two years ago, but it was recently popularized again by this version of the picture.

With all that is terrible in the world, sometimes it is best to remember the good.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Gobble Gobble Open Thread

'Tis a holiday weekend for the Yanks, so in honor of that...

Gobble Gobble

Here is your open thread for the next 7 days.

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 (again)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Ride it out? No.

In a follow-up to Trying to ride it out?, posted here on Tuesday...

It seems the answer is "No".

The Government of Thailand has declared a State of Emergency and empowered the security forces to clear the demonstrators out of the airports and restore services. For now, the Police are in the lead, with Army support.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mumbai Multiple Terror Attacks

This is a breaking story, and one better reported in detail by wire-services and Indian local media, but the ongoing terror raid in Mumbai (formerly-Bombay), India, is highlighted here because reports are coming in that the raiders are targeting foreign passport-holders.

Mumbai police have told the media that at least 80 people have been killed, 250 injured.

Strength and victory to the Indian Security Forces in this tragic time.

Update1: There are reports of hostage-taking in one of the occupied hotels.

Update2: Animesh Roul at CTB is following this. You could not ask for a more expert observer.

Update3: FOXNews Urgent Queue cites multiple hostage situations, Indian NSG Paramilitary Special Response Unit on the way.

Update4: NHK radio news at 0600 local time (Japan) reports 1 Japanese National confirmed as amongst the injured.

Update Thursday: The death toll is up to 127, including 7 foreign nationals. The fighting still continues in three locations, with hostage situations in all three places.

The Times of India has it (in various stories) as 125 dead, including 14 police. Over 300 wounded.

Reports are of the terrorists having arrived by ship from Karachi, Pakistan, and now there are claims by the Indian Army commander on the scene that the attackers are (were) Pakistani. Not Pakistani-sponsored... Pakistani.

I am going to have to concur with some opinions circulating about those claims: That India basically *must* claim foreign agency in the attacks, or there will be a storm of domestic controversy as to how the Indian security services missed detecting a home-grown plot. It is just a whole lot easier to claim outside plotters *if* in fact it was an outside plot.

Mis-step in the Kosovo Dance

Just in case Kosovo has fallen out of the view-finder for you, here is a little update: The EU, the UN authorities, and the Government of Kosovo are still having trouble following the same music, and there is still a Serbian dancer involved (via the UN) in the northern part of the country.

Plenty of room for trouble, for ill-deeds, for misunderstandings, and for plain old-fashioned mis-steps.

This is going to take some explaining, to say the least.

Power-sharing won't bring down Mugabe

Direct and to the point:

The MDC sees power-sharing talks collapsing.

Between the less-than-good-faith "mediation" to date by T. Mbeki of South Africa, and the almost embarrassing effort by "The Elders" last week to involve themselves in the situation in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia), one really can't blame the opposition party for believing they are being set up and sold out.

On the ironic side, given the history of J. Carter as one of R. Mugabe's chief enablers-to-power, the fact that the Mugabe regime wouldn't issue visas to "The Elders" does rather bring tears to my eyes. Tears of laughter, that is.

At least one reasonable voice is speaking out on this.
"If no petrol went in for a week, he can't last," Skelemani told the BBC's HARDtalk programme, broadcast on Wednesday.

In related (and very good) news, the U.S. DeptTreasury's OFAC has added several Mugabe cronies to the SDN list. It is tough to run a kleptocracy if one can not get the profits out, after all.

LRA peace deal - ICC indictments?

The "chief negotiator" of a peace deal between the Lord's Resistance Army and Uganda (please see The Weekly from October 20th about the background on this matter) claims to have a deal and an agreement to sign on the dotted line on Thursday of this week.

I will believe it when I see it. J. Kony and his thugs have made fools of negotiators before, repeatedly.

More importantly, the supposed requirement of the LRA to make peace was that the International Criminal Court indictments against J. Kony and other LRA leaders be thrown out. No word on what the latest negotiations involved, but the ICC is not likely to allow their mandate to be negotiated away by bit players in the region.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

There is something fishy about this, certainly

The day after retired Indian Navy RAdm. Raja Menon fired off this rather unflattering opinion piece in the New Express directed at the U.S. and NATO pirate fighting (or non-fighting) efforts, it seems almost too much of a coincidence that
"A US Official with knowledge of last week's incident in the Gulf of Aden tells Fox News there is no evidence to suggest that any pirates were on board the commercial fishing vessel that was destroyed by the Indian Navy."

The supposed owner of the (former?-)Thai fishing vessel that was sunk as a pirate-controlled vessel has also surfaced, claiming his ship had just been captured by pirates and the crew was endangered / killed by the naval engagement.

*Somebody* is putting out a political smokescreen, that is for sure.

. The Indian Navy, looking to justify the action?

.. Foreign fishing interests, looking to cover up poaching?

... Someone in the U.S. trying to whitewash American inaction, for whatever reasons (good or bad)?

.... Someone in diplomatic affairs acting even more pathetically petty?

The only thing clearly known about the incident is that when the INS Tabar fired on the trawler, it went up with a rather spectacular and out-sized explosion.

Some fish, eh?

I do so love International Treaties

The Falklands War was in 1982. The Ottawa Treaty banning most anti-personnel land mines was signed by the U.K. in 1997.

...and under the terms of the treaty, when currently interpreted...

The U.K. is on the hook for finding and removing the roughly 20,000 mines planted *by the Argie Invaders* during the war that are still in place. Given the difficulties of doing so, the Foreign Office (UK) is having to ask for a ten year extension (delay) of the obligation.

Anti-Land Mine campaigners are claiming this "could set a negative precedent for other countries."


Gee, we wouldn't want that to happen.

HLF Convictions

This has been all over the news, and rather than re-write what others have said more ably than I could, here are links to Matthew Levitt's report and Andrew Cochran's analysis, both posting over at Counterterrorism Blog.

I'll only add that getting these convictions was a big success, even bigger than it seems. Way to go, U.S. Department of Justice.

Trying to ride it out?

The protests in Thailand by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) anti-former-Premier Thaksin Shinawatra political faction are getting much worse, with occupations of government offices and an attempt to prevent the current Prime Minister from returning to the country form a trip abroad. Kyoudou wire service has the latest report.

The protesters are also trying to draw in the Royal Thai Army to act 'for the benefit of the nation' and bring down the government, but so far the Army says no to any coup.

Heck of a time to try to ride out the storm, fellows. Best of luck.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Weekly N&C for November 24th, 2008

Still a stepping stone

Since the coming of Portuguese adventurers in the 15th Century, the coast of furthest West Africa was considered more valuable as a stepping stone to the treasures of the south than as a holding of any particular value. Unlike the Gulf of Guinea further around the western coastline, the Atlantic shore held little of its own for colonial adventurers to desire. Yes, there was a slave trade that came to be, and that combined with tribal warfare and the spread of foreign diseases grievously depopulated much of the region. If one knew where to look, and could brave the resistance of the exceptionally strong tribal kingdoms of the interior lands, some gold and more than a few gemstones were there to be found, but those remained mostly out of the hands of the Europeans. They quite prudently stayed for the most part near the coast in fortified bases and only when opportunity arose did they trade with the interior kingdoms.

The real value, to the Europeans, was that bases at the extreme of West Africa acted as a stepping stone for transits on to South America, or on toward Southern Africa and the route to India. This was, in the earliest part of the Age of Discovery, most valuable to Portugal who held colonial claim in what would be Brazil as well as the stages of Angola, Mozambique, and on to the heart of the Indian Ocean. *Here is a map reference*, showing various holdings over time of the Portuguese Empire. Upon examination, that reveals the real role of the Portuguese holding at Guinea, and the later European holdings in the same region: In the days of sail, to hold a base there was the key to access to a world-spanning Empire-by-Sea.

Of course, the world no longer depends upon galleons for oceanic trade and the post-1948 world has functionally criminalized Colonialism, so it is fair to ask what matter is it now if all that was the historical significance of the extreme of West Africa…

To which the answers can be made that: (1) Colonialism, or more specifically the manner of de-colonization, created a situation of current importance; and (2) The very geographic relationship between West Africa and Europe that once was essential to the outward Empires is now of equal importance but in a reverse flow.

The de-colonization of the Portuguese Empire did not even really begin until most of the other colonial powers had, either by force or choice, well begun to divest themselves of colonies. The accepted explanation for this is the bull-headed stubbornness of fascist-autocracies in the face of international condemnation, and Portugal was only barely outlasted by F. Franco’s Spain as the last authoritarian regime in Western Europe. In the key years of de-colonization (post-World War II~1970’s), Portugal remained steadfast in its commitment to retain its colonies. Unfortunately for Portugal, the 1950’s and 1960’s were also the heyday of Soviet sponsorship of “Armies of Liberation”, which meant that throughout the African holdings of the Portuguese Empire pretty much any group that sent a couple of fellows off to Glorious People’s Revolutionary High School could then get all the guns and bombs they needed shipped in from the Soviet Union. Places like Angola and Mozambique were (and are) big enough though that arming one group or faction did not guarantee a successful war against the colonials. In those cases, the revolt had to spread to a wide enough number of the local tribes and/or factions to bring down the state. But in then-called Portuguese Guinea, the matter was far more manageable. A riverine jungle-filled territory little bigger than the U.S. State of Maryland, with at the time of de-colonization less than a million people, and with the colonialists virtually restricted to a couple of coastal swaths of territory and a very small number of islands, and with really only one urban area to strive to control, this was nearly an ideal opportunity for an insurgency.

Even given such nearly ideal conditions, the liberation struggle of the Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde; PAIGC) was less than a stunning success. This group formed in 1956 as a political party, and only after joining in with groups based in Angola and Mozambique did they militarize. Acts of warfare started in 1962, and full-scale warfare was declared the next year. Heavily supplied by the Soviet bloc, and facing a Portuguese military that was clearly second-class behind their forces in other colonies, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of the People (FARP) won consistently and took control of most of the mainland of the territory. It was not until 1970 that the Portuguese Army turned the tide, and that was by using all the firepower and brutality available. By the time of the 1973 declaration of independence, the FARP was basically defeated…

Defeated? Declaration of Independence? Well, before cognitive dissonance takes hold, please allow the explanation that “defeat” didn’t mean much when the U. N. General Assembly recognized and admitted the PAIGC government as legitimate *and* most of the leadership of the Portuguese Army that had administered the defeat went back to Portugal and led a (peaceful) Socialist revolution that overthrew the government back home. In the wake of that Carnation Revolution, Portugal renounced with no further conditions almost all of its colonial possessions (Macau in China being the notable exception) and massive disorder and chaos swept through all the now-abandoned territories. In then-called Portuguese Guinea, this meant the slaughter of some thousands of former loyalist Africans. The one-party state that resulted under the PAIGC leader Luis Cabral (brother of the party-founder Amilcar Cabral, who died during the revolutionary struggle at the hands of one of his own) was the Union of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. This lasted, mostly intact, until a Guinean named João Bernardo Vieira (known as “Nino” during the wars) led a 1980 military coup against the Cabral regime. Being that the Cabrals were Capeverdian, that pretty much put an end to the Union. J. Vieira also seized control of the PAIGC political machinery, and that left him the undisputed leader of Guinea-Bissau.

J. Vieira ruled as head of the Revolutionary Council for four years, then reinstituted a National Popular Assembly and thereafter a new Constitution under which he “won” office as President, head-of-the-party, and commander of the Armed Forces. Which considering he faced coup attempts at least three times in the following 10 years, didn’t seem to buy much in the way of national stability. Considering also that Guinea-Bissau was the poorest and least developed of Portugal’s colonies before independence, it should be no surprise that Guinea-Bissau was (and is) one of the poorest countries in the world.

An attempt at multi-party democracy was made in 1994, as much as anything to gain some international legitimacy and plead poverty to sources of foreign aid, and for once that plea was a fair cop. Guinea-Bissau needed (and needs more) help. What they got was more instability. The Vieira-led elected government began to fall in 1998, with the outbreak of a Civil War that destroyed most all the remaining infrastructure of the interior of the country. Senegalese and Guinean (Republic of Guinea) troops intervened on the side of the “government” and most of the FARP (now the national armed forces) were on the side of the Army-based Opposition. Political intervention by the UNSC and ECOWAS promoted a cease-fire, and ECOMOG military “interposition forces” were sent in to mandate a separation of combatants. This “Ajuba Accord” (one of many agreements in West Africa by that name) called for a National Unity government and by March of 1999, foreign troops were on the way out. The United Nations, as a part of the Accord, had organized the United Nations Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau, known as UNOGBIS.

The then-Vieira government, however, did not last to see much peace-building going on: They were removed from power by a direct coup and replaced by a military junta in May of 1999. J. Vieira fled to the Portuguese Embassy and from refuge there signed an unconditional surrender on May 10th. By this time it had been pretty much proven that the Vieira government was the arms-trafficking agent that sparked the Civil War by arming Senegalese separatists (rather than the army leader who was publicly accused, starting the rebellion). But before J. Vieira could be tried, he slipped out of the country under an agreement to let him get medical treatment in France. The restored democracy then elected Kumba Iala of the opposition Partido para a Renovaçao Social (Social Renewal Party; PRS) won the Presidency in the November 1999 election. That lasted a little less than four incredible years, with constant insurrection, fighting, coup threats and counter-coup crackdowns, but finally one got done right and the Iala regime went into the history books at the hands of a military coup in September of 2003. Somehow, Iala was not simply killed, but was banned from politics for five years…

That, by the way, was probably regretted all around the region. In the spring of 2004, K. Iala was released from house arrest, and within a year was contesting his ban and denying his resignation as President. Only a personal intervention by the President of Senegal prevented another breakdown of civil order, and lo-and-behold, the result of the Senegalese interlocution was that Iala would throw his support behind the candidate of the PAIGC, who just happened to be… João Bernardo "Nino" Vieira, back from exile. He was then able to declare victory in the election and return to the presidency from 2005~present.

If this is all sounding like a tragicomedy set in a fictional banana republic, there is a reason. The nation was in ruins almost from its inception. The conflict over the decades has just made it all worse. Yet the few who are leaders of factions, playing one outsider off against the other for aid or protection, have pretty much made a mockery of the international effort to build *something* of purpose for the nation. It is pretty clear that with their history of arms-trafficking and general sneering at international conventions, the powers that be in Guinea-Bissau (of most any faction) are basically amoral.

Which brings us to part (2) of the answer to the question above: that there is a reverse flow now underway, from South America to Europe, that mirrors the old lines of communication and trade from the days of sail. That would be the delivery of enormous amounts of cocaine to the European illicit-market, in the main by aircraft that can cross over the Atlantic from the mouth of the Orinoco region, stage and refuel on the West African coast, and then fly on to southern points of entry into Europe. Antonio Maria Costa, Director-General of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UN ODC) wrote on March 9th this superb indictment of the recent popularization of cocaine in Europe and its potentially devastating effect on rule-of-law in West Africa. Before that, the Secretary-General himself had briefed the Security Council on the risks to peace-building efforts in Guinea-Bissau, in particular naming rising drug smuggling as a major issue. Antonio Maria Costa again brought this issue to the forefront in a briefing just this October to ECOWAS that called the situation “threatening to turn West Africa into a ‘cocaine highway’.”

Threatening does not even begin to cover the issue. The entire defense budget of Guinea-Bissau is about US$9.5 million, and pays for about 9,250 regular troops. A thousand dollars a year per active slot, even in West Africa, doesn’t buy much capability *or* loyalty. The average Latin American narco-terrorist outfit could buy that off with pocket change, and if unsubstantiated reports are true, they already have.

Last year’s interceptions totaled about 6 tons of cocaine, and given the state of border controls in the region, an interception rate well below 5% is likely (based on known arms and gem smuggling successes in the past). In comparison, the Caribbean region has interception rates between ~20% and ~45%, depending on route, so this is almost a sure thing for the smugglers to get safely through West Africa.

By the way, don’t expect overmuch U.S. involvement at the national level: the U.S. has not kept an Embassy in Guinea-Bissau since the 1998 Civil War (the Ambassador in Senegal has dual accreditation), and Guinea-Bissau has no representation in Washington D.C.

So when one reads stories in the news like *this* about more political violence in Guinea-Bissau, and even when you see reports like *this* from UN News claiming all went well in the latest election, realize that there is a big pile of money being waved around by bad guys again, and there is little question as to whether the factions in the country can be bought…

…the open question is simply the price to buy control of the stepping stone of West Africa…

…and whether the civilized world is willing to let them buy it.

End Notes:

Most all notes are embedded as links in the text.

UN Peacebuilding Commision: official home page

The CIA Factbook entry on Guinea-Bissau

Google Maps, showing Guinea-Bissau. Zoom out to see the location clearly vis. South America and Europe.

The following Wiki-p entries are for general reference only. Please check all sources.

General Overview on Guinea-Bissau

ECOWAS: the Economic Community of West African States

ECOMOG: the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (military)

General Information on the PAIGC party

General Information on the PRS party

Personal Profile: President João Bernardo "Nino" Vieira

Personal Profile: (the formerly-called) Kumba Iala

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Morning Push

There will likely be no new discussion thread 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.

There are no admin matters of note; all goes well.

As always, thank you for coming here!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Chavez Sending A Warning

Tomorrow, November 23rd, will be the local election day for Gubernatorial and Mayoral campaigns in Venezuela. It should be quite a day, although the general thinking is that opposition candidates will be lucky to prevail in eight constituencies of the 22 State Governorships open for election. *Here* is the latest topics column from El Universal (in English) about the run-up.

In the background, there have been all sorts of public statements by the Chavez regime threatening various opposition candidates and constituencies. None of these are more meaningful than moves directed against former-Gen. Raul Baduel, whose influence in the military was vital to H. Chavez when Baduel was on the same political team, and is now the biggest threat to Chavez now that Baduel is in opposition. From a private e-mail on the latest event:
A rural property said to be owned by Baduel was raided. Is Chávez trying to tell him not to meddle with the results of these elections? He was instrumental in getting Chávez to accept the results of December 2nd, so perhaps he's worried that Baduel and his followers (in the Armed Forces) will stop Chávez again?

*Here* is a Noticias24 report (in Spanish) on the raid on R. Baduel's property.

So to answer the question asked, yes, I think the Chavez regime is very worried. They are worried about opposition; they are worried about popular support; and they are very, very worried because the Basket price on Venezuelan Crude is down to US$40.68 as of Friday trading.

Chavez with no money = Chavez with no friends.

It is going to be an interesting election day.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Pact

The Governments of Canada and Colombia got it signed, on the sidelines at APEC PERU 2008. Upon ratification, tariffs start downward with the end-goal being reached 10 years thereafter.

At least S. Harper's administration has a reasonable chance of getting ratification. Would that the U.S.-Colombia FTA was given such a chance.

The Open Thread

Here is your open thread for the next 6 or 7 days.

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.

Your host here is in "one of THOSE moods", at least momentarily, so...

caveat: the usual rules DO NOT apply. Do see to avoiding incurring criminal or civil liability and if you do ((waves good-by and smiles)), have a nice visit with the judge.

Friday, November 21, 2008

They are here to help.

It seems the al-Shabaab (archradical Islamists) of the Islamist factions in revolt against the TFG ("government") in Somalia are taking a hand in the piracy problem:

Seems they are upset the pirates captured a ship belonging to brother Islamics.

read that "brother" part as Saudi Arabian. Sorry, Malaysia; apparently your ships don't rate sufficiently to inspire co-religionist feelings.

Then again, al-Shabaab may be jumping in because with the loot being this good, everybody wants a piece of the action.

By the way, major media analysis of possible scenarios for Somalia's future are running toward various degrees of awful.

Unfinished business, all that, but no sign of anyone on the side of right willing to see it through.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Convictions in the al-Kassar trial

A U.S. Federal Jury has returned a conviction in the case vs. Monzer al-Kassar and Felipe Moreno Godoy on charges of conspiracy to sell weapons to the FARC.

Now if they can just get Viktor Bout extradited from Thailand to stand trial, there is a chance to "tie a broom to the mast" in the fight against these arms merchants to narcotraffickers and revolutionaries. Here's hoping...

Nord-Stream Risk

Word is now making its way out that Russia is at least posturing as if the huge Nord-Stream gas pipeline project may be curtailed. This project was designed to cut Eastern Europe out of the loop on Natural Gas deliveries to Germany (and the rest of Western Europe), and has been cited as the prime example of how the former Schroeder administration (1998~2005) in Germany was willing to mortgage the security of the nation for commercial advantage...

The most recent Jamestown Foundation analysis is pretty rough on the whole situation, ending with:
The single most important factor behind the gas demand growth in Germany, however, is the political decision to reduce reliance on nuclear power and eventually abandon it altogether. The former Social Democrat-Green government forced that decision on Germany and adheres to it rigidly in the current coalition government, despite growing objections by the Christian Democrat/Christian Social Union.

Given Gerhard F. K. Schroeder's current employment as head of the shareholders committee of Nord-Stream A.G., it certainly has been to *his* advantage.

G. Schroeder has pretty much filled the role of chief apologist for the Putin-Medvedev show in recent years, including such highlights as coming down firmly on their side in matters regarding Estonia and Rep. Georgia. The late U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos probably had the best take on G. Schroeder:
"I referred to him as a political prostitute, now that he's taking big checks from (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. But the sex workers in my district objected, so I will no longer use that phrase," Lantos said.

One has to wonder whether Herr Schroeder is going to feel a bit *used* if the Nord-Stream project comes unravelled.

Naw, probably not.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

South African Government Calls a Snap Election?

The ANC-controlled government of South Africa, which has been in care-taker mode since the resignation of T. Mbeki's administration, is reported to have called a snap election for March 25th of next year. The idea is to make things happen too fast for the new (ANC-splinter) COPE party to get organized. But just to be sure, the ANC Youth Wing is already harassing COPE meetings with violence.

The only problems seem to be the rest of the ANC isn't on board yet, it may not be a legal call, and if it is legal the opposition COPE and DA parties say they are ready.

Here's hoping this is an own-goal by the ANC high command.

Congratulations the once-known Philip Mountbatten and his most respected wife, upon this the 61st anniversary of their wedding.

May Grace and Providence keep you both safe.

The International Election Observers Should Like This...

Just a brief reminder that Venezuela holds local elections on the 23rd of this month, and about 130 foreign election observers from the OAS and various non-governmental groups are invited.

...and if H. Chavez rolls out the tanks like he says he might, that should be make for some interesting Observer reports, to say the least.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Somali Pirates, Seychelles Area

Somali Pirates operating far to the Southeast of Kenya bagged themselves a big one...

A VLCC Supertanker, fully loaded.

The American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen was shocked by the pirate attack more than 450 nautical miles out to sea...

shocked? um, guys...

*This Piracy Alert* hit International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Commercial Crime Services on the 14th. That would be 2 days before the tanker was taken. I will grant that none of the warning report cases were so far out, but it is not the most difficult of map exercises to have noted that pirate motherships would have better options of attack in that region if they had a "nest" in the waters of the Seychelles.

So being impressed with the pirates operational capabilities is entirely reasonable. Being "shocked", on the other hand, smacks of somebody not being on top of the available intelligence.

hat tip to the excellent work at Eaglespeak on analyzing the new risk zone.

You probably saw this... on the Estonian Spy arrests either on FOXNews citing Der Spiegel, or in the Times (UK) Sunday edition.

...but unless you were watching carefully, you might not have seen it back on September 22nd, when AFP ran the story and actually had a lot more of the relevant details.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Weekly N&C for November 17th, 2008

An Opportunity to Reopen the Door

This week the main sessions of the APEC PERU 2008 international conference will commence, bringing high-level representatives of the 21 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum member economies together in Lima, Peru. The term “member economies”, by the way, is a convenient euphemism to allow the Republic of China (as Chinese Taipei), Hong Kong, China (Special Administrative Region) and the People’s Republic of China (generally recognized government of China) to all attend. On this week’s schedule are in particular Ministerial meetings that are the prelude to the Leader’s Meeting at the end of the week. Japan’s delegate to the Ministerial meetings is two-months-in-office gaimu daijin (Minister for Foreign Affairs) Nakasone Hirofumi (H. Nakasone). This trip is to continue on Friday with a visit to Colombia for meetings and the celebration of the centennial of Japan-Colombia bilateral relations. Both stops offer much needed opportunities to reopen doors that have closed, for Japan and for each host nation.

In the case of the Colombia visit, it can only be hoped that some balance will be restored (if not some overt preference) after the recent agreements between several Japanese Trading Houses and the Government of Venezuela for some pieces of the Orinoco Basin petroleum pie. No slight to the merchants for finding a way to make an oil deal at a time when prices looked to be going up, and it might even be proven a good idea a few years from now, but restoring Japan-Colombia ties to their ideal fullest and working toward tariff reductions and investment opportunities will likely serve both countries very well.

The situation in Peru as of this date is one fraught with peril as both the instability in the world’s financial system and the resurgence of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) insurgency cast a dark pall over the possibilities for Foreign Direct Investment to continue to come in. Given the experience of the first Alan G. L. Garcia Perez (Alan Garcia) government (1985-1990), which brought hyperinflation, debt-service failures and attempts at nationalizing the banking and insurance industries, one might well look rather carefully at the conduct of the second (and current) Alan Garcia administration. Fortunately, it appears that lessons were learned in the intervening years and the choice in 2006 of A. Garcia over Ollanta Humala, a Bolivarian Socialist whose campaign was supported openly by the H. Chavez government of Venezuela, looks to be a good one for Peru. But those intervening years that saw A. Garcia in exile in Colombia and France are defined by yet another problem that is yet to be completely overcome: then-President Alberto Ken’ya Fujimori.

For by 1990, Peru was in the grip of a vice, pressed on one side by economic failures that had ruined international investment incentives, in particular for Japan which had suffered losses on investments, and unpaid development loans, and on the other by rising guerrilla warfare against the government and foreign assets. Japan’s interests suffered from the violence as well, with interruptions of mining activities and attacks on Japanese-owned manufacturing and banking operations. *Here is a map* of how bad things had gotten by 1990.

But rising to the moment in the presidential election of that year, A. Fujimori upset Mario Vargas Llosa and became the first Japanese-Peruvian to lead the nation. The combination of his “Fujishock” neo-liberal economic intervention and his determination to confront the various guerrilla threats proved instantly commendable in the eyes of the international community, and cast his political rivals (who still controlled the legislature) as obstructionists. Furthermore, in his 1990 visit to Japan, he was accorded almost heroic status in the media and provided with all manner of support including aid campaigns to fight poverty and charters for Non-Governmental Organizations to gather financial support. A. Fujimori saw those commendations as a license to act, and act he did…

The action taken by then-President Fujimori was the rather less-than-common ploy of an autogolpe (self, or presidential, coup) where with the help of the military, he basically ended Peruvian democracy for a time. Other than holding one election to form a Constitutional Congress to re-write the constitution, he ruled as an autocrat from 1992~95. The Organization of American States turned against him, various states broke off or suspended diplomatic relations, but two countries basically stood by and came to support his coup: The United States of America recognized his government “as legitimate” after a brief period of suspension of aid; and Japan, which basically never flinched in its collective adoration of him. More importantly, inside Peru the Fujimori regime was astonishingly popular. The financial reforms mostly worked, and the major guerrilla threats (the Maoist Shining Path and the Marxist Tupac Amaru MRTA) were in desperate decline.

In the return to “regular” democracy in 1995, A. Fujimori carried nearly two-thirds of the vote and his party swept into control of the legislature. But even before he was inaugurated for his term, whispers of ill-repute began to be heard accusing him of “despotism”, and some rumors of criminality circulated. Then there came the attack on the Japanese Ambassador’s Residence in 1996~97 by the MRTA, the four month long standoff and bloody conclusion. No matter, it seemed, for he was well on his way to the third term (having gained approval from the legislature to run for an unconstitutional third term) when The Montesinos Scandal broke in September of 2000, with video showing the Chief of the National Intelligence Service, Vladimiro Montesinos, paying off bribes to a congressman. Within a month, all the rumors and accusations were *believed* to be fact and public support for the Fujimori government collapsed. By November, he had lost his exemption to be a candidate in the upcoming election and then while out of the country (co-incidentally for an APEC summit), Alberto Ken’ya Fujimori skipped out. He went into self-exile in Japan where he was almost immediately recognized as Fujimori Ken’ya, Japanese National. He sent his resignation letter back to Peru by fax while on the way to Japan.

To describe what happened next in Peru as a “national uproar” is almost an understatement. The remaining Fujimori administration fell from power and almost in a deluge accusations began to pour out: murder, kidnapping, crimes against humanity (those all made the INTERPOL warrant), arms trafficking, grafting of donations from Japanese Charity NGO’s, and just plain old fashioned looting of the national treasury. The Special Prosecutor appointed by the interim Peruvian government estimated the looting and graft to have run to US$2,000,000,000 all in (including Montesinos’ scams and deals) and Transparency International makes the far better defined estimate of US$600,000,000. Even in the lower figure, that is an astonishing sum. With all that lined up, the even more astonishing detail is this: Japan refused to extradite him, or serve the INTERPOL warrant.

That is correct; for six years Japan turned aside every claim, call or warrant against their newly-minted national. Sometimes the Government of Japan actually argued, as in the response to Peru’s direct request: “We don’t have an extradition treaty”. More often, the official position was just to ignore the calls. If that bespeaks that US$600 million (or whatever large sum) lets one buy quite a lot a friendship, well that may be so however no proof of any such has ever been found. The other likely possibility is a sense of entirely misplaced ethnic pride, but be that as it may, for SOME reason, elements of the Japanese government protected him for years.

Had not his own almost inexplicable desire to gain a renewed Peruvian passport (which he got at the Embassy in Toukyou (Tokyo) in 2006) and then an almost quixotic trip back to Latin America with the intent to re-enter Peruvian politics, likely he would still be safely whiling away the time in the elite quarter of the big city. But apparently his 10-year ban from becoming a candidate in Peru did not concern him and he felt that the rather successful minor political party his daughter had risen to the top of back in Peru would form a springboard for his return to rule. But when his flight landed in Chile en-route, the Chilean authorities were perfectly happy to serve the international warrant for his arrest.

It took a while, but the Chilean Supreme Court authorized his extradition on 7 of the 13 cited charges in September of 2007, and his first trial back in Peru (on a single charge of ordering an illegal search) returned a guilty verdict (Spanish language link), a fine and a 6 year sentence. But in the “adding insult to injury” department, Japan had allowed A. Fujimori to rather blatantly attempt to slip Chilean custody by registering as a candidate in the 2007 Upper House election in Japan. Had he won a seat (unlikely as that would have been, given his small sponsoring party), he could have claimed immunity as a Japanese lawmaker on foreign travel and demanded release from Chilean detention before they could hand him over to Peru.

It is time to make amends, Japan. I know full well this is hard to do, but it needs be done.

That means making a good-faith effort to cooperate with the Peruvian investigation of the major crimes A. Fujimori stands accused of, to either his gain or detriment.

That means promising to investigate once and for all the schemes behind APENKAI and AKEN, the two Japan-based NGO’s that may have been misused.

That also means *not* having H. Nakasone visit or pay any notice to A. Fujimori, or his daughter while he is in Peru. Claim the APEC schedule is too hectic. Be a diplomat; dissemble if you must.

And *if* a meeting with Peruvian Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde can actually be arranged, then our good Foreign Minister need privately but correctly recognize the mistakes ‘our’ nation has made, so things can get back to ‘our’ having a respectful relationship with the whole nation of Peru,

…instead of just the part that sounds like it should be Japanese.

End Notes:

All direct citations are embedded as links in the text.

APEC PERU 2008 homepage

Regarding the NGO accountability issue, See note (9) in *this* document.

For general information, the following are Wiki-p links. The usual caveat holds; check all the sources:

Personal Profile: Alberto Ken’ya Fujimori

Personal Profile: President Alan G. L. Garcia Perez of Peru

Personal Profile: Vladimiro Montesinos

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Morning Push

There is no new discussion thread, 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.

There are no admin matters of note; all goes well.

As always, thank you for coming here!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

November 15th discussion item

Compare and contrast time...

The New York Times ran this article on November 7th, detailing what their authors believed to be doubtful claims by the Republic of Georgia on how the Russo-Georgian War of this August came to be.

The New York Times than followed that up with this article which both detailed continued Russian claims and made reference to Georgian challenges to the sourcing of the original material quoted in the November 7th piece. (Note: this article was written by one of the two co-authors of the first piece)

Russian Foreign Minister S. Lavrov was, to say the least, pleased with the direction of the coverage, and said as much. I believe the quote was (*paraphrased*) "...the media has finally gotten it right".

Then along comes this article on Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty on November 15th...

Open Ground: So is the NYT being played? Do they have the "real" story? Do they effectively refute the Georgian claims? How do you see this, and if you care to say so, have you an explanation for either the NYT or RFE/RL being "mistaken"?

Addenda: this has been a hotly contested issue for a while. Danger Room readers have seen D. Axe make his argument against the Georgian claims, and M. Totten has made an argument based on his interviews that strongly argues the Russians intended and/or caused the conflict.

This is just the latest round of trying to determine the historical record.

Good luck, readers, and enjoy the challenge!

Friday, November 14, 2008

End-Mid-Week Open

Here is your open thread for the next 7 days.

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, November 13, 2008

One Percent

This should be seen, shown and talked about.

1% of Americans...

It always should have been, but it has never been the way of the 99% to do so.

a heartfelt thank you to Blackfive for highlighting this.

Good on you, lads

Looks like the new Rules of Engagement are working just fine...

Royal Navy in firefight with Somali pirates.

Now to figure out what to do about the captives on shore and the ships under occupation.

None the less, good on you, lads. Well done.

NATO MAP for Ukraine -- two views

The recent NATO conference in Tallinn, Estonia, has yielded mixed messages on the future membership of Ukraine.

There are statements the Ukraine will become a member.

There were no indications that the meeting would speed Kyiv's membership bid.

The deep divisions between the France-Germany-Spain-Italy camp (no MAP) and the U.S.-Eastern Allies (Ukraine in NATO is a fundamental issue) are still there, and getting noisier.

Russia watches, and likely smiles a little.

Fox gives testimony re: Henhouse disaster

This is considered valuable insight into the Global Economic disorder of late:

G. Soros testifies before U.S. Congressional committee.

Later in the week, expect bears to be invited to testify as to the losses in honey stockpiles this autumn.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

So where are they, Gerry?

The next time some idealist states that the Provisional IRA were the good guys, or even a good cause, or in any way respectable, one need not bring up car bombs, communist sponsorship, or Libyan shipments of Semtex.

Just ask them where the 'Disappeared' are.

At least Jean McConville can rest now, but no thanks to your lot.

Verification unverified

It may simply be another round of North Korean gamesmanship, or it could be a serious indictment of the conduct of the latest round of negotiations...

North Korea says they never agreed to any sample-taking.

Sure glad we got that in writing before letting them off the List of Terror Supporting Nations, right?


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Day the Guns Fell Silent

It was supposed to be, at least symbolically, the moment of the end of civilization's last war.

It was the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.

It was, and remains Armistice Day, although it is celebrated in addition to Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth, Veteran's Day in the United States, and by a host of local names and traditions in many countries.

This is the commemoration of the best of hopes for mankind, that somehow all the lives lost in the battles collectively called The Great War (later, World War I) should have bought us all something... lasting peace between nations.

It took only 2 months for some of the worst traits of mankind to begin to make a lie of all that.

That latter is worth remembering, too, and may we all have learned something from the mistakes then and thereafter.

In Remembrance:

"In Flanders fields the poppies blow..."

"Ich hatt' einen Kameraden..."

Nicaragua Mayoral Election-like Activity.

Elections were held across Nicaragua for Mayoral posts, most importantly in Managua, with the opposition "Liberals" Partido Liberal Constitucionalista (PLC; liberal democratic party) and the "Sandinistas" Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN; supposedly the Marxist party) contesting. Two other opposition parties were banned from placing candidates on the ballot by the FSLN-controlled government.

The government is claiming wide victories across the country. As there were no International Observers from the OAS or much of any kind of poll-watching, this is in the hands of the Supreme Electoral Council, who are the ones that banned the poll watching,...

...and there are already reports of deaths in post-election violence.

IAEA and the Syrian Reactor strike

This just in:

The chief U.N. nuclear inspector says his agency is taking allegations that Syria has a hidden atomic program very seriously.

No Uranium found. Yes Uranium found. Then again, it wouldn't have been fueled at the time of the strike.

Found any graphite yet, Chief? Estimates are that there were over a hundred TONS of graphite in the supposed design...

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Weekly N&C for November 10th, 2008

The Foot of Thailand

Here is a Global War on Terror trivia challenge for everyone: Name more than two Southeast Asian countries that have internal conflicts that have been recast in the last few decades from anti-authoritarian factionalism into battles of the world-wide Islamist campaign? The list probably starts with the Philippines, where a centuries-old conflict between the Moro ethnic group(s) and the Christianized central and northern islands has flared again with criminality and terrorism replacing the traditional goals of simple autonomy. Next would be the incredibly complex conflict issues that take form in Indonesia, the world’s largest Islamic country. There one can find all manner of historical conflicts from the Moluccas (Malaku Islands) Christianization to the role of the tolerant Hindu culture of Bali, but most all have taken a turn for the worst with the radicalization of the predominantly Islamic Javanese heartland in the last decades. But to name a third country, many will likely be reduced to guessing. Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei have all had brushes with Islamist elements trying to foment trouble or use places inside the countries for bases, but none qualify as separatist movements of any real note. But the Kingdom of Thailand has a situation rooted in the expansion of Great Siam two hundred years ago that has taken on a new bent in recent times. That would be the Southern Problem.

Pattani (Patani), or more correctly the three Thai provinces of Patanni, Yala and Narathiwat, are the modern remnants of the once independent Pattani Kingdom which existed from the late 13th to the late 18th Centuries, most of that time as a vassal state to Ayutthaya, the Siamese precursor kingdom. But unlike the north, central and even middle-south of what would one day be Thailand, the region including Pattani was populated by Malay peoples who had been Islamized since the 11th Century. The last period of Pattani independence was during the fall of Ayutthaya in 1761, but it was very short-lived as Great Siam rose from the ashes of defeat to reunify first all of the mainland and then to secure by final conquest the isthmus and the southern vassals. By the end of the 18th Century, the region was fully a part of the Kingdom of Siam, and remained so through the name-change to Kingdom of Thailand (1939) and on to the present day. Here is a map reference showing the modern borders and ethnic distribution.

The latest resurgence of Pattani separatism raised its head in 2001, roughly in coincidence to the larger outbreak of Islamic militant (Jihadi) violence worldwide, and for the first time the Southern Problem showed a distinctly more dangerous cast. A handful of separatist groups that had campaigned primarily politically, such as the Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO; active since 1968), were supplemented and in many ways supplanted by groups that raise the black flag of militant Islam’s Jihad. Most are local efforts that have become radicalized, but outsiders from Jemaah Islamiyah (who gained infamy from the Bali suicide bombings in 2002 and 2005) are believed to be active in organizing and training insurgents in Thailand’s South.

The nature of the separatist struggle also changed for the worse during the administration of then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who at first (in 2002) attributed the rise in violence to non-religious causes. Ministers of the government hauled out the traditional “bandits” label in discussions, and they dismissed much of the problem as being related to drug-smuggling. That school of thought was dismissed after the April, 2005 bombings in Hat Yai and Songkhla cities which while causing relatively few casualties (2 dead ~60 wounded) inspired a panicked response. The airport at Hat Yai was closed for six months, and the national government decreed new powers to fight the insurgency. These in particular centralized authority in the Prime Minister’s office to direct military operations, suspend civil liberties and to censor the press.

Thaksin’s campaign was a blunt force response, and probably an unwarranted one as the insurgency then and now shows no sign of manufacturing a general threat to the nation, but the political damage was done. Militant actions could be cast in the light of defending local liberties as well as that of separatism, and Islamist recruiters found far more of the formerly moderate population to be willing to aid or join in their efforts. By September of 2006, the Bangkok Post claimed that more than 1,400 people had been killed in the previous three years of the insurgency, mostly bystanders.

The Thaksin regime was removed from power by a Royal Thai Army coup in September of 2006, and there was said to be a brief slowdown of separatist attacks in coincidence with the stated hopes of the Junta to open meaningful negotiations, but by November of that year, loss of life had reached over 1,800. Not much of a slowdown there.

The ongoing militant campaign(s) have gained a reputation for two particular features besides the obvious bombing and ambushing of government elements: They have taken on the goal of ethnic “cleansing” in their targeting of Thai portions of the population in villages, and have in a few cases succeeded in killing or driving into refuge the non-Muslim population of entire villages; and they have begun to target Education and Educators.

This latter is the most troubling, for it combines an intention of denying public education to the general populace (which leads to both a strengthening of the Islamic education system and a weakening of the general sense of nationality) with the particularly Islamic-Fanatic willingness to target women. A substantial percentage (arguably a majority) of the teachers in the Kingdom of Thailand are female, and the fact that they are (again, in the main) secular women makes them the most hated target of Islamic-Fanatics, the non-compliant female. The recent campaign of roadside bombings which also have killed troops of the paramilitary Rangers on patrol are intended as well to target teachers traveling to and from public schools in rural areas.

Atrocious as it is, this offers an opportunity to the government of Thailand to take a meaningful series of steps to change the course of the conflict. The bulk of the population, even in the contested area, is not yet under the thrall of Islamist factions. This means that a determined campaign of civil security and well-being can keep the doors of schools, banks and government offices open. That is what the people want, and what they need.

Nationwide, the people of Thailand are greatly opposed to social movements that deny education or attempt to place it under the control of opportunists, and the general population is still greatly supportive of the Royal Thai Army as a protector of the nation as a whole. Moreover, the Royal Thai Army is more than competent at those matters military that happen behind and in support of actual military operations; they have a demonstrated history of ability at logistics, civil engineering, and route security. What they lack is the will by the political class now entrusted (in the wake of the coup and reformed government) to make a serious commitment to making a determined effort to secure the provinces under threat, one by one and piece by piece if need be.

There are no large formations of insurgents to battle in the field. The largest confirmed separatist group can marshal between 300 and 500 fighters spread across a wide area of conflict. (Rumors of insurgent forces in the 10,000 range are propaganda reports)

This problem is one that is taken on from one end to the other, or in “ink-spots” in classic counter-insurgency thinking. The Royal Thai forces have the ability to secure villages, connect them with good roads, and then expand the security to cover the road courses. The Royal Thai forces can also provide heavy physical security to areas in the urban sectors as needed, and can keep a modest number of ready troops available to respond to any active insurgent effort to take territory, were such to ever happen. Neither of those are what wins a fight like this, though.

What wins is keeping the townspeople and villagers able to work their lands, move goods to market, and travel to school, and to do all of that in steadily improving conditions of safety.

If the government can avoid shooting itself in the foot (again) this time, the Foot of Thailand may yet be made safe.

Doing so would be a step toward making the whole region a lot safer from Islamic-Fanatic threats, as well.

The International Community should be most grateful, and find ways to help.

End Notes:

Most all notes are embedded as links.

The following Wiki-p entries are for general information only:

The Moros of the Philippines

The Moluccas (now of Indonesia)

The historic Pattani Kingdom

General Information on the South Thailand insurgency

Personal Profile: former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand

General Information on the PULO

General Information on Jemaah Islamiyah international Islamist group

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sunday Morning Push

There is no new discussion thread, 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.

There are no admin matters of note; all goes well.

As always, thank you for coming here!

Saturday, November 8, 2008


I am at a loss for a polite way to comment on *this*, Monsieur Président de la République française.

Hopefully something more meaningful will happen on the 10th at the EU Foreign Ministers meeting.

A faint hope, I well know.

November 8th discussion item

When is it wrong for a uniformed officer to make a statement that is controversial, or even contrary to accepted national policy?

Never? -- that's the usual argument. Soldiers don't make policy in civilian-controlled armed forces, and all that.

What if what they stated was outside their area of responsibility?

What if what they stated was arguably a position taken on historical interpretation of some event related to the national military?

Here's the latest example:

The now former-Japanese Air Self-Defense Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Toshio Tamogami, took part in a politicized writing contest regarding Japan's role in World War II, taking the perspective of the apologist historians that claim Japan was "forced into the war". He won the contest, but when word got around, he was removed from duty. There were several not-entirely true items in his essay, and a couple patently false, but the official reason for his firing was his dispute of Japan having been labeled "an aggressor".

It was considered bad enough for regional diplomatic relations that his replacement, Gen. Kenichiro Hokazono (the former Defense Ministry intelligence chief, by the way) felt it was the first order of business to apologize to everyone who might have taken offense.

The only problem with this is, no matter how reprehensible the manipulation of history Gen. Tamogami portrayed was, the modern definition of "an aggressor nation" is pretty much a post-war construction of the attempts to find legal basis to prosecute the leaders of the various Axis nations. At what point in history does the legal concept of "aggressor nation" apply?

To pick the example of Japanese forces in kantoushuu, the Chinese Liaodong Peninsula and adjacent territories was "won" once in the treaty ending the 1894~95 First Sino-Japanese War, and "won" again in the treaty ending the 1905 Russo-Japanese War, and then leased under extant colonial conventions as a concession by Japan thereafter. Moral questions of colonialism aside for now, any question of claiming "aggression" in conflicts prior to the 1930's is doubtful, and certainly the Imperial Japanese military was perfectly legal in garrisoning the concession.

So was Gen. Tamogami discussing a point of historical interpretation (rightly or wrongly), or was he making policy?

...and should he have lost his job for doing so (either way)?

Friday, November 7, 2008

End-Mid-Week Open

Here is your open thread for the next 7 days.

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. We play nice here.

Cutting off the U-turns

U.S. Department of the Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey yesterday released the words that go with the deed...

...we have shared information with foreign governments and financial institutions about how Iran is using its banks to finance its nuclear and missile programs and terrorist groups. We have provided reliable information to back up our words, demonstrating that even seemingly benign business with Iran should be cause for concern.

And the deed, revoking the "U-Turn" financial license for Iran is now policy.

This is just another stroke in the duel, but a well-struck one.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Is Chavez running out of money?

There have been progressively developing reports that with the Crude Oil spot market returning to sanity (and perhaps even below expected values), that all the commitments of H. Chavez' government and extra-territorial ambitions are placing a back-breaking burden on the Venezuelan economy.

It does look like he is trying even harder now to get his hands on any endeavor that has potential cash value. The latest move is the nationalization of the largest working gold mine in the country.

Given the 500% rise in cocaine transshipment through Venezuela in the last five years, perhaps it could be considered a bright spot that this latest nationalization may at least have the trappings of legality...

but also given the uses that the Chavez regime put money to, perhaps it would be better for everyone if he did run out of money and shortly thereafter friends.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Bangladesh-Myanmar Sea Border Crisis

A territorial crisis has been developing in the Bay of Bengal over the last few days as naval forces and survey vessels of Myanmar (Burma) have intruded and remained in Bangladeshi waters. The region is considered a valuable resource location for undersea natural gas fields. Bangladesh has responded to the incursion by dispatching their own naval vessel(s) and involving Chinese diplomats in an attempt to find a resolution other than force.

Good luck with that.

For those wishing more details and a naval warfare perspective on this crisis, I recommend the superb Information Dissemination site's article.

Russia postures as Allies hope for continued missile defense.

The brave efforts by Poland, the Czech Republic, and (by alliance) the Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia to support the Atlantic Alliance in providing a Missile Defense system to Europe may be in doubt, but Poland for one expects the incoming administration of B. Obama (U.S.A.) to continue with the project.

The Russians seem unwilling to read a map well enough to see what approaches said Missile Defense would and would not provide coverage of, and are threatening all sorts of nonsense, and to electronically interfere with the system.

Let us not overlook the facts that Russian occupation of Kaliningrad (Koenigsberg) and the still legally undefined Estonian-Russian border are the major open territorial issues in Northern Europe. In the aftermath of the Russian Invasion of Georgia, these matters have undergone "paradigm change" in the thinking of all parties at risk.

To the governments of the NATO Alliance: These are not matters to be trivially negotiated away.

The shakeout starts at the top in the Georgian Army

There have been some changes in the leadership down the line on the civilian side of the M. Saakashvili administration in the Republic of Georgia in the weeks since the Russian Invasion of Georgia, but this time the change has come at the very top of the Army command. The Chief of the General Staff, Zaza Gogava, has been replaced. Gorgava will now command the border police. Vladimer Chachibaia has been tapped as the new Chief of the General Staff and charged with addressing "shortcomings" revealed in the fighting.

Tough row to hoe, but with help, he may be up to the task.

Mexico plane crash

In a great loss to the nation and government of Mexico, Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mourino and seven others aboard the jet were killed in what appears to be an accident. Former Deputy Attorney General Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos also was amongst the dead. Both men were vital officers in the administration of President Felipe Calderon and were leaders of Mexico's "war" against the Drug Cartels.

Also lost was the Director of Social Communication for the Interior Ministry, Miguel Monterrubio, a former spokesman for President Calderon. A personal memorial of him written by FOXNews' Adam Housley can be seen and commented on *here*.

My condolences to all in their loss.

Kivu Cease-Fire in Name Only

Given the number of factional players all contributing to the violence in the D.R. Congo's Nord-Kivu, enforcing any kind of cease-fire is a nearly insuperable challenge. Aid agencies and workers are being pulled out. For now, it seems the FARDC national army and the CNDP rebel army are holding back, but rival Mai-Mai militias are actively provoking encounters and MONUC peacekeepers are caught in between.

The diplomatic effort to reach some kind of accord is to continue as part of a regional summit being called, to be held on Friday in Kenya.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

There is no World News

The Americans are having a Presidential Election vote today.

The rest of the world is hearby requested to cease any interesting activity, make no news nor do anything that might take up an inch of newspaper space until tomorrow.

Thank you.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Weekly N&C for November 3rd, 2008

Will Sri Lanka finally “win”?

One of the longest running and most vicious insurgencies in the modern world is the Tamil Separatist Insurgency in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), and it has proven to be nearly intractable whether pulled and pushed at by political, economic, interventionist, or purely military attempts at a conclusion. Given the cultural history of the place, and the linkage between factionalism and religious affiliation, it has even occurred that this conflict be described as one where an ardent religious minority fights back against a rival and uncompromising majority. But that is simply not so, at least not in any rational way of explanation. The government, and the law of the land, is preferential to Buddhism, however the current administration by the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) party-alliance that includes most of the left-center (including the Marxist janatā vimukti peramuṇa (“People's Liberation Front"; JVP) minor party; former insurgents themselves) is composed of representatives of a variety of religious beliefs (or non-belief). The schism that has divided the nation for half its post-colonial existence is one of competing nationalisms, with one side being played for the fool.

That side, the Tamil minority that is widespread in the North and East of Sri Lanka, makes up roughly 15% of the total population and is in the far largest part Hindu. They are the tail end, ethnographically speaking, of the large and influential Tamil (sometimes called Dravidian) population that holds a wide homeland in India’s South. The modern Indian State of Tamil Nadu (formerly Madras State) is a fine testimony to the strength and industry of the people there, as it is considered the most industrialized and urbanized region of India. But across the narrow passage of Palk Bay, the Tamil population of Sri Lanka has lived in a mostly rural dispersion from the Jaffna Peninsula down the eastern coast of the great island. *Here* is a map reference, and *here* are more maps that include the location in reference to India’s Tamil Nadu, and in several cases mention a region of Sri Lanka as “Tamil Eelam”…

This Tamil Eelam is a rival nationalist construct to the State of Sri Lanka, originating in the political concept of there being one Tamil “nation”. Since 1972, various factions of the Tamil community of Sri Lanka have ascribed to this concept, and each has tried to leverage it into autonomy or separatism. But by 1987, each had in turn been consumed by the most voracious of the movements, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The LTTE has gained a place in the world, to say the least, by the way it chooses to conduct itself. It has been banned as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in the U.S. since 1997, banned in the EU since May of 2006, and is under ban in 31 countries as of this date. It takes a pretty soiled reputation to end up with that pedigree and sure enough, the LTTE is about as bad a bunch as there is out there.

The LTTE is the personal cat’s paw of Prabhakar Velupillai, who has gotten himself an absolutely fearsome reputation and an INTERPOL warrant for his arrest in any nation. His list of criminal accusations includes murder, terrorism, terrorist conspiracy, and organized crime. That last bears further commentary, below. India has judged him guilty in abstentia of conspiracy to the murder of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and there is an open warrant for his arrest in connection to the Central Bank Bombing in India as well. Almost needless to say, the Government of Sri Lanka just wants him brought down, dead or alive.

Under his leadership, which is functionally a cult-structure of absolute obedience to the leader, the LTTE have become the master practitioners of all the elements of modern insurgency: terrorism in the targeted populace; absolute authoritarianism in any subject areas; fanatical loyalty of the armed wing of his organization; forcible induction of subject peoples into the militant force, especially children; and the premier practitioners of suicide bombing and suicidal loyalty in the terrorist world. The modern jihadists learned technique from the LTTE, albeit by example. The LTTE is also proficient at using all environments in such ways. The Sea Tiger suicide boat units are a particular threat to shipping in the region, and the LTTE is known to engage in all manner of false-flag endeavors to steal and conceal arms shipments. They have even managed to conduct air raids using light aircraft, to the consternation and confusion of the Sri Lankan military.

Efforts to bring some peace, or at least stability, to Sri Lanka have stumbled far more than they have advanced. The Indian Government attempted to intervene at the invitation of the then-desperate Sri Lankan Government, from 1987 to 1990, but that ill-fated intervention only brought wider grief in both countries as the fighting simply spread to involve the Indian Peacekeeping Forces as combatants. The Norwegian Government, in its internationally-encouraged role as a non-involved negotiator, initiated a round of negotiations that seemed to bear some hope of a political solution. The talks produced a February, 2002, cease-fire and a Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) composed of Nordic countries’ officers, but no real progress toward dismantling the LTTE even though the effort persisted for years.

Not even the Boxing Day Tsunami disaster could bring real cooperation between the negotiators and the LTTE, although it was attempted. This was to be no Aceh (Indonesia) moment of revelation, but that may well be as much because the East of Sri Lanka that was most horribly devastated was by that time at least partially under the control of a splinter-faction that had broken with the LTTE. That falling out had come under suspicious circumstances, by the way. The new faction, the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP), seems to have been created by government influence in the area after the cease-fire basically had divided LTTE holdings into separate northern and eastern regions with little military communication between them. Sadly, it appears that in practice the TMVP is just as horrible an organization as the LTTE with many of the same ways of war, just directed against the LTTE instead of against the government. If there is any hope for political negotiations, however, it is with the TMVP to bring them back into some sort of civilized place.

The rest of the diplomatic efforts have proven only to have given the LTTE time to restore its strength in the North. By 2006, repeated incidents so called into question the international role in the negotiations that called “imperiled”. So how did the LTTE of 2002, weakened and willing to talk, become the LTTE of 2006~2007 gearing up to resume full-scale insurgency?

They used the cease-fire. No great shock there, except possibly to the diplomats that were running the negotiations. They, including the “renowned” Akashi Yasushi (Y. Akashi), of Japan, political U.N. appointee with a track record of semi-success in Cambodia and utter failure in Bosnia, seemed to be willing to believe they could talk this matter to a close.

During the cease-fire, the LTTE turned up its criminal endeavors worldwide, from squeezing the local Tamil populace for money and recruits to engaging in financial trickery and extortion like this within the U.K. Tamil community, and even pulling off scams like this that simply stole money by the millions (of British Pounds, in that case). One of their trickier bits of thievery gained them over 30,000 81mm mortar bombs by claiming to be a legitimate end-user government, loading the arms on a ship, and then false-flagging the ship once it was at sea. The cargo and the ship functionally vanished without a trace until the bombs began to be used against the Sri Lankan Army.

Faced with this situation, the Government of Sri Lanka formally withdrew from the cease-fire agreement on January 16th, 2008. The SRMM was suspended, and the fight was officially back on.

Since then, the Sri Lankan Army has had a terrible slog of it, including a month-long battle before a central LTTE-controlled town, but progress is being made. Victories are being won, and the usual trickery of the LTTE is being caught in-progress for once. The Sri Lankan Army may in fact actually prevail militarily, for what that gains them. It certainly would prepare the ground for more fruitful political negotiations if the LTTE were out of the picture and the townsmen and villagers of the traditionally Tamil areas were free to negotiate.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard A. Boucher was in Toukyou (Tokyo) for meetings back in August of this year, and seemed to acknowledge that “newly liberated areas” of Sri Lanka was where the diplomatic focus should be oriented. If so, very good.

But if that was just part of a speech to justify bringing back the cease-fire, very bad.

The other way didn’t work. We have more diplomatic and liaison influence with the Sri Lankan authorities as to proper conduct in war, anyway.

Let’s try letting a rightful government win for once.

End Notes:

Many end notes are embedded as links. Wiki-p links were used in two places, for expedience only.

Human Rights Watch report on this conflict, 2007.

The following Wiki-p citations are for convenience. In particular, be careful of propaganda influences in citations directly related to this conflict.

General Information on Sri Lanka

General Information on Tamil Nadu, India

General Information on the UPFA party-alliance, Sri Lanka

General Information on the LTTE

General Information on the IPKF, 1987~1990

The SLMM (Intl. Monitors)

Personal Profile: Velupillai Prabhakaran, LTTE overlord

Personal Profile: Y. Akashi, Japanese Diplomat

The war started in 1979

They started it and, may heaven be my witness, one of these days we are going to finish it.

Don't wave this piece of paper around. Concessions extracted under duress are null the instant the duress is gone, and you all in the Theocracy know all about that.

The day will come.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sunday Morning Push

There is no new discussion thread, 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.

My special thanks to CSIS researcher(s) who have come in to visit for the first time this week. Otherwise, there are no admin matters of note; all goes well.

As always, thank you for coming here!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Do as we say, not as we do.

The Dominican Republic is debating approval of a law that will allow Dominican authorities to fire upon boats and aircraft believed to be smuggling drugs that refuse to stop, land, or be led into harbor.
In a visit to the Dominican Republic earlier this year, U.S. drug czar John Walters urged legislators to drop the proposal because it could endanger the lives of innocent people.

"We have been very clear in our recommendation that such force should not be used," the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said.

Um, excuse me, Mr. Director Sir...

American Forces and Law Enforcement use force in such cases. American trainers have provided training and equipment to Dominican Forces.

Don't you believe your trainers have done a good job and the Dominicans will only use force when necessary (you know, like the U.S. Coast Guard does)?

Especially as in the case of semi-submersibles, there have been calls for *more* shooting, not less.

Yes, this author is aware of the 2001 Peruvian Shootdown misidentification (by American operators); ditto on the fact that most semi-subs run on the Pacific smuggling routes, not via the Central Caribbean.

Told you so.

It was discussed here in this The Weekly back on Oct 6th.

The AP finally decides to mention Columbite-Tantalite (a.k.a. Coltan) and all the other resources being fought over in this report today, buried in with the flurry of reports on the ongoing rebellion and of possible EU re-enforcement of MONUC.

Better late than never (noticing), I guess.

ex-ANC Party Separatist Faction Congresses

This weblog has discussed before about the ongoing split that may well create a new rival to the ANC in South African politics. Here is the latest report, on the new party congressing to begin formally organizing:

From DPA, via Earth Times

Seems the first claim made by the separatists is that the ANC is corrupt and "reviving the legacy of apartheid". Ouch. Saying that is pretty much an infraction of the reductio ad Hitlerum form, writ for the local memory. Let's stick with the "corrupt Marxist thugs" line of attack, shall we?