Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ
on: September 30, 2009, 09:18:52 AM
second entry of the morning
By MICHAEL J. BOSKIN AND JOHN F. COGAN
For many decades California residents enjoyed a rising standard of living, an outstanding education system, and unprecedented upward mobility. Yet now, despite state leadership in technology, agriculture and entertainment, California's economy radically underperforms. The unemployment rate, 12.2%, is the nation's third highest. Residents are leaving the state—144,000 more than entered last year—for better opportunities elsewhere. And the state's bond rating is dead last.
While uncontrolled spending, excessive regulation and litigation have helped create a dismal business environment, the tax system is central to the state's economic woes. The top personal income tax rate (also levied on capital gains), the sales tax rate, the corporate tax rate, and the gas tax are all at or near the highest of any state. And the top 1% of the state's income earners pay almost half the income taxes: Thus the state experiences boom-bust cycles of exploding revenues and spending in the good times, followed by a collapse in revenues and emergency retrenchment in recessions. Ironically, California's progressive tax and spending policies now threaten the state's ability to fund everything from parks to prisons, education to health.
The excess spending during booms is never entirely cut back during the busts. Instead, the state also raises taxes and borrows temporarily. If spending had increased at the rate of population and inflation since 1996, recession-level revenues plus reserves would now be more than sufficient to balance the state budget, which is now back in the red, despite temporary tax hikes and spending cuts.
Recognizing the problem, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic legislative leaders Darrell Steinberg and Karen Bass appointed a bipartisan Commission on the 21st Century Economy in December 2008 to provide recommendations for a reformed tax code that would be far less volatile and substantially more competitive and pro-growth. While the two of us believe California needs to control and reform state spending, and to reduce as well as reform state taxes, we and the commission's other appointees were limited by the executive order creating the commission to changes on the tax side of the state budget that would neither raise nor lower the state's revenues on average over the business cycle.
The commission's majority report recommendations were made public yesterday. They include a sweeping overhaul of the personal income tax code that reduces tax brackets to two from six; eliminates all deductions and credits other than for charity, mortgage interest and property taxes; and cuts the top statutory income tax rate to 6.5% from 9.3%. Most taxpayers would receive a 25%-30% tax cut and all would pay less. The commission also recommends abolition of the state's corporate income tax and the elimination of most of the state sales tax that finances the state's general revenue fund (as opposed to special funds for transportation, etc.). Finally, to replace the lost revenue, the commission recommends a broad-based, low-rate state value-added tax (VAT), collected on business net receipts (revenues less purchases from other businesses, including immediate expensing of capital), that is capped at 4%.
These reforms will reduce the volatility of state revenues by 40% (using commonly accepted measures) mostly by reducing the reliance on personal and corporate income taxes, and moderate the current tax code's extreme progressivity. They also will result in a $7 billion net tax cut per year for Californians without raising taxes on any income group, as some of the new VAT would be borne outside the state and more of Californians' taxes would be deducted against federal taxes.
Proposals to scale-down existing taxes and replace revenues with a new tax raise legitimate concerns. The same political process that erodes the base and raises rates for income taxes might be repeated for a VAT. Such taxes have been used to grow government (for example, in Western Europe) with new taxes added without reducing others.
Some protection against this outcome is provided by California's wise constitutional requirement for a two-thirds vote for the budget and tax increases, and by the commission's recommendation of immediate abolition of the entire corporate income tax as the new business tax begins phasing in. A hard spending cap would be still better.
California can once again lead the nation, this time in moving away from ever-higher personal and corporate tax rates and excessive roller-coaster spending. If not, California and then the nation will lose the dynamism, growth and opportunities for rising living standards that once were the state's hallmark and crowning achievement.
Mr. Boskin is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a professor of economics at Stanford University. Mr. Cogan is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a professor of public policy at Stanford University. The commission's report is available online at www.cotce.ca.gov
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Twilight of Pax Americana
on: September 30, 2009, 08:42:34 AM
Twilight of Pax Americana
Since the end of WWII, the world has depended on the United States for stability. But with American military and economic dominance waning, capitalism and global security are threatened.
The international order that emerged after World War II has rightly been termed the Pax Americana; it's a Washington-led arrangement that has maintained political stability and promoted an open global economic system. Today, however, the Pax Americana is withering, thanks to what the National Intelligence Council in a recent report described as a "global shift in relative wealth and economic power without precedent in modern history" -- a shift that has accelerated enormously as a result of the economic crisis of 2007-2009.
At the heart of this geopolitical sea change is China's robust economic growth. Not because Beijing will necessarily threaten American interests but because a newly powerful China by necessity means a relative decline in American power, the very foundation of the postwar international order. These developments remind us that changes in the global balance of power can be sudden and discontinuous rather than gradual and evolutionary.
The Great Recession isn't the cause of Washington's ebbing relative power. But it has quickened trends that already had been eating away at the edifice of U.S. economic supremacy. Looking ahead, the health of the U.S. economy is threatened by a gathering fiscal storm: exploding federal deficits that could ignite runaway inflation and undermine the dollar. To avoid these perils, the U.S. will face wrenching choices.
The Obama administration and the Federal Reserve have adopted policies that have dramatically increased both the supply of dollars circulating in the U.S. economy and the federal budget deficit, which both the Brookings Institution and the Congressional Budget Office estimate will exceed $1 trillion every year for at least the next decade. In the short run, these policies were no doubt necessary; nevertheless, in the long term, they will almost certainly boomerang. Add that to the persistent U.S. current account deficit, the enormous unfunded liabilities for entitlement programs and the cost of two ongoing wars, and you can see that America's long-term fiscal stability is in jeopardy. As the CBO says: "Even if the recovery occurs as projected and stimulus bill is allowed to expire, the country will face the highest debt/GDP ratio in 50 years and an increasingly unsustainable and urgent fiscal problem." This spells trouble ahead for the dollar.
The financial privileges conferred on the U.S. by the dollar's unchallenged reserve currency status -- its role as the primary form of payment for international trade and financial transactions -- have underpinned the preeminent geopolitical role of the United States in international politics since the end of World War II. But already the shadow of the coming fiscal crisis has prompted its main creditors, China and Japan, to worry that in coming years the dollar will depreciate in value. China has been increasingly vocal in calling for the dollar's replacement by a new reserve currency. And Yukio Hatoyama, Japan's new prime minister, favors Asian economic integration and a single Asian currency as substitutes for eroding U.S. financial and economic power.
Going forward, to defend the dollar, Washington will need to control inflation through some combination of budget cuts, tax increases and interest rate hikes. Given that the last two options would choke off renewed growth, the least unpalatable choice is to reduce federal spending. This will mean radically scaling back defense expenditures, because discretionary nondefense spending accounts for only about 20% of annual federal outlays. This in turn will mean a radical diminution of America's overseas military commitments, transforming both geopolitics and the international economy.
Since 1945, the Pax Americana has made international economic interdependence and globalization possible. Whereas all states benefit absolutely in an open international economy, some states benefit more than others. In the normal course of world politics, the relative distribution of power, not the pursuit of absolute economic gains, is a country's principal concern, and this discourages economic interdependence. In their efforts to ensure a distribution of power in their favor and at the expense of their actual or potential rivals, states pursue autarkic policies -- those designed to maximize national self-sufficiency -- practicing capitalism only within their borders or among countries in a trading bloc.
Thus a truly global economy is extraordinarily difficult to achieve. Historically, the only way to secure international integration and interdependence has been for a dominant power to guarantee the security of other states so that they need not pursue autarkic policies or form trading blocs to improve their relative positions. This suspension of international politics through hegemony has been the fundamental aim of U.S. foreign policy since the 1940s. The U.S. has assumed the responsibility for maintaining geopolitical stability in Europe, East Asia and the Persian Gulf, and for keeping open the lines of communication through which world trade moves. Since the Cold War's end, the U.S. has sought to preserve its hegemony by possessing a margin of military superiority so vast that it can keep any would-be great power pliant and protected.
Financially, the U.S. has been responsible for managing the global economy by acting as the market and lender of last resort. But as President Obama acknowledged at the London G-20 meeting in April, the U.S. is no longer able to play this role, and the world increasingly is looking to China (and India and other emerging market states) to be the locomotives of global recovery.
Going forward, the fiscal crisis will mean that Washington cannot discharge its military functions as a hegemon either, because it can no longer maintain the power edge that has allowed it to keep the ambitions of the emerging great powers in check. The entire fabric of world order that the United States established after 1945 -- the Pax Americana -- rested on the foundation of U.S. military and economic preponderance. Remove the foundation and the structure crumbles. The decline of American power means the end of U.S. dominance in world politics and the beginning of the transition to a new constellation of world powers.
The result will be profound changes in world politics. Emerging powers will seek to establish spheres of influence, control lines of communication, engage in arms races and compete for control over key natural resources. As America's decline results in the retraction of the U.S. military role in key regions, rivalries among emerging powers are bound to heat up. Already, China and India are competing for influence in Central and Southeast Asia, the Middle East and the Indian Ocean. Even today, when the United States is still acting as East Asia's regional pacifier, the smoldering security competition between China and Japan is pushing Japan cautiously to engage in the very kind of "re-nationalization" of its security policy that the U.S. regional presence is supposed to prevent. While still wedded to its alliance with the U.S., in recent years Tokyo has become increasingly anxious that, as a Rand Corp. study put it, eventually it "might face a threat against which the United States would not prove a reliable ally." Consequently, Japan is moving toward dropping Article 9 of its American-imposed Constitution (which imposes severe constraints on Japan's military), building up its forces and quietly pondering the possibility of becoming a nuclear power.
Although the weakening of the Pax Americana will not cause international trade and capital flows to come to a grinding halt, in coming years we can expect states to adopt openly competitive economic policies as they are forced to jockey for power and advantage in an increasingly competitive security and economic environment. The world economy will thereby more closely resemble that of the 1930s than the free-trade system of the post-1945 Pax Americana. The coming end of the Pax Americana heralds a crisis for capitalism.
The coming era of de-globalization will be defined by rising nationalism and mercantilism, geopolitical instability and great power competition. In other words, having enjoyed a long holiday from history under the Pax Americana, international politics will be headed back to the future.
Christopher Layne is a professor of government at Texas A&M and a consultant to the National Intelligence Council. Benjamin Schwarz is literary and national editor of the Atlantic.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: New Tax Plan?
on: September 30, 2009, 08:33:16 AM
No state's economy, with the exception of Michigan, has careened into a deeper ditch than California in this recession. The state now has the fourth-highest unemployment rate (12.2%), the third-highest rate of mortgage foreclosures, and for two years has had the biggest budget deficit in the history of the 50 states. So it is very good news that yesterday Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's bipartisan tax commission recommended a road out of this mess.
.The heart of the new plan is to broaden the tax base and slash tax rates on personal income, business and sales. California currently ranks at or near the top in all three categories. This has, paradoxically, contributed to the state's inability to pay its bills by driving men and women from the state and leading to revenue boom and bust. We don't agree with everything in this report, but there's no question it would be a huge improvement over the current tax code in its economic incentives, simplicity, revenue stability and fairness.
The commission hasn't recommended a pure flat tax, but something much closer to it. As shown in the nearby table, the income tax rate, which currently tops out at 10.55%, would be chopped to a more reasonable (but still high) 7.5%. (The plan doesn't eliminate the one-percentage-point millionaire income tax surcharge, alas.) Because about 70% of small businesses pay the personal California income tax, the commission found that California's high rate is driving enterprises to the likes of Nevada, Texas and Idaho. The number of tax rates is reduced to three from seven (we prefer one), and thanks to the elimination of credits and loopholes, the new California tax form would fit on a postcard.
Even more impressive is the recommendation to eliminate the corporate income tax and the 5% of the sales tax that contributes to the general fund. These would be replaced by a broad-based Business Net Receipts Tax of no higher than 4%. This taxes businesses on what they produce, minus their costs of purchases from other firms. This is similar to a value added tax.
One benefit of this new levy is that it creates a level playing field among industries and reduces tax favoritism based on the power of lobbyists in Sacramento. The greater virtue is that this tax would exempt all California investment and capital income from taxation. (Michael Boskin and John Cogan offer more details nearby.)
The commission—chaired by California businessman and former U.S. Treasury official Gerald Parsky—also calls for a rainy day fund by requiring annual revenues above a 10-year rolling average to be put into a reserve fund rather than being spent.
One danger is that the revenue-generating efficiency of the Business Net Receipts Tax would eventually increase the overall tax burden in California. To protect against this, the commission calls for a permanent cap on the BNRT at 4%. Some business groups don't like the new business tax because it means they'd have to pay tax even if they don't make money. But a sales tax has that same feature.
A higher rate would defeat the purpose of this corporate tax reform, which by eliminating the corporate income tax would go far to restore the state's competitiveness with other states, as well as Japan, China and Europe. Conservatives should insist that the current two-thirds vote requirement in the legislature to raise taxes applies to this new business tax to protect against jacking up the rate to grow the state government.
Part of Mr. Parsky's achievement here is political, because he managed to convince a bipartisan majority of nine of the commission's 14 members to endorse its proposals. This includes notable liberal Christopher Edley, while Democrats like Senator Dianne Feinstein and former Governor Gray Davis have also praised much of the plan.
They may be motivated by the reality that California's steeply progressive tax rates are defeating the purposes of progressive government. To wit, only a growing economy can create opportunity for the middle class and enough state revenues to finance schools and health care for the poor. A tax code that depends on 1% of taxpayers, 144,000 filers, to finance 50% of state income tax revenues has proven to be unsustainable, notwithstanding the liberal dogma that says tax rates don't matter.
Mr. Schwarzenegger will call for a special session of the legislature to approve this plan later in October, so let the debate begin. The only painless way to rebalance the Golden State's $150 billion annual budget is to expand the tax base by luring capital and jobs back to the West Coast. That's what happened when California passed Proposition 13 to cap its property taxes in 1978. If the legislature fails to act, as it probably will, then the Parsky plan should become central to next year's election debate over how to revive this once dynamic state.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A guest write on MY's blog
on: September 30, 2009, 08:23:12 AM
Pedro Inspired the Vikings
Tuesday, 29 September 2009 22:23 Camilla Fuhr Nilsson Next >
Note: I asked Danish journalist Camilla Fuhr Nilsson to write a couple of stories about the Air Force Pedros. After publication of her first installment, she emailed from Afghanistan, surprised to have gotten “thank you” notes from readers. As a journalist, Camilla had never gotten “thank yous” before. In the about five years I have covered the wars, it is safe to say that British and American service members, their families and others, have thanked me 100% of the time, for each of hundreds of dispatches. That would be tens of thousands of thank yous…maybe more. If not for those thank yous, I would have quit after just a few months in combat. The power of a sincere “thank you” can never be measured. And now Camilla’s second story:
By Camilla Fuhr Nilsson
Published: 30 September 2009
“These things we do that others may live” is the current motto of the US Air Force combat search and rescue team, or Pedro as they are called when deployed to Afghanistan. They fly into the battlefield with their smooth Pave Hawk helicopters and evacuate the wounded infantry soldiers and Marines. On a recent evacuation of two Danish soldiers in the middle of a battle with the Taliban, the Viking ancestors made a memorable difference to the 129th American Air Force Pedros crew.
It was a hot day in June even though it was still early in the morning. The traditionally dry heat of the southern Afghan desert, combined with the humidity of the green vegetation known as the Green Zone around the Helmand River, made the Danish infantry soldiers from the Danish Royal Husars drip with sweat as they patrolled in the green fields with heavy equipment and body amour. The squad, also known as Charlie Coy, soon got engaged in a heavy battle with Taliban fighters. Two Danish soldiers were shot by the Taliban and the medic called for evacuation—the so-called medevac. The American Pedro team 129th responded to the call.
Major Mat Wenthe, the detachment commander of the team, recalls the 25th of June rescue:
“The weather was fine that morning, so we only had to worry about the battle when we landed. The Danes were on the ground when we arrived. The B1 bomber was on station in the air already and the Norseman call sign on the ground and in the forward operating base nearby. There were two different call signs. One was talking about the TIC—troops in contact—and another was talking to us. On one side there was a TIC and the soldiers were receiving fire. So we knew what we had to deal with.”
The ongoing battle between the Danes and the Taliban meant that the Major and his team had to land in what they call the hot LZ. That means the landing zone is still a battle zone and there is a huge risk they’ll be caught up in the middle of bullets and mortar bombs flying through the air. Approximately twenty percent of the rescues are in a hot landing zone and the rest of the missions are fairly routine.
“There was enemy contact still going on. When we arrive to a pick up zone, we usually ask where the enemy is and what and where the casualties are. That way we’ll have an up-to-date assessment of the situation. And we knew we would be landing in a TIC,” Major Wenthe explains.
Alpha Bravo Charlie rescues
The three different categories of casualty assessment are Alpha, Bravo and Charlie. The call from the Danish medics was an alpha which means the wounded are in a critical condition and require urgent rescue. So even though the Danish soldiers were in the Charlie Coy squad, their casualties were Alpha.
Because of the situation on the ground, the Pedro 36 crew on one of the helicopters asked for smoke from the soldiers on the ground.
“The Norsemen secured the LZ. We were able to move in and pick them up. There were two casualties—one soldier was hit in the shoulder and one in the leg. The guy with the gunshot in the leg walked to the helicopter by himself which we thought was pretty amazing actually. We were all pretty impressed,” Mat Wenthe laughs, recalling the situation.
The other crew members from that flight nods--recognizing the event. They remember the Danish Viking, who made his way to the helicopter by himself.
“Dude that was wild”, says Tommy, a PJ—a pararescue jumper.
“Seriously I don’t know why the Danes are better at it than the other countries, but they are better in the way they call in the rescue, the way they speak out there, calm and everything.” He shakes his head, almost in disbelief.
The crew wanted to limit time on the ground and was off in 30 seconds.
“We try to get out fast to be safe. The PJs jump out and grab the patients, and we are on our way,” Mat says. “As we were leaving the area, the Danish Platoon Commander—I think he was—on the ground said to us: ‘Thank you Pedro, take good care of my men.’ They didn’t think we were gonna get them because it was a hot landing zone.”
Worst case scenario training
The Pedro crew is originally trained to pick up US Air Force pilots who are being shot down. They train for worst case scenario and how to evacuate a landing zone in the middle of firefights.
“It’s definitely a morale boost to the people on the ground, that we’ll land in any kind of situation and any weather. We are the only air force that guarantees we’ll try. So on the ground, that makes the pilots know that we’ll be there, and we apply that to the medevacs we do here. The troops on the ground know we’ll help them engage from the chopper if needed,” Mat Wenthe says.
On the 25th of June the team took the two soldiers to the hospital in Camp Bastion—the large base in the middle of the desert. The day after the rescue, the Pedros received a letter from the Danish platoon.
“The letter came thanking us for what we did. Normally it’s about the injured when we receive a thank you, but this letter proved that we can make a difference on the ground too. It made an impact on us, that he wrote that we had made a difference after we left the battlefield, because that’s not our primary goal.”
The letter stated that the Pedro crew had bravely inspired the men, because they landed under difficult circumstances in the middle of a firefight between the Danes and the Taliban. A bravery that made the Danish soldiers motivated and strong enough to win the fight.
“It was awesome to see that what we do inspired other people on the ground. And the fact that it was the Danes, you know the Vikings, huge, tall, and blonde, that’s pretty bad ass. We’ve been hearing what they do out there, and to receive that letter from the Vikings was good,” says Mat Wenthe, and looks like he met the original Vikings on the 25th.
Viking reputation still stands
The American crew still recalls all the events surrounding the rescue because the soldiers were Danish, and because they had heard the reputation the Danish men had on the battlefield, both historically and in Helmand.
“They are pretty laid-back when they are out there. So we always picture them as huge and blonde and badass wearing helmets with horns,” Major Wenthe says with a smile.
Some of the contents of the thank-you letter the American crew received has now been translated into Latin. They plan to make a badge with the inscription “Fortis incito”—“to inspire bravery”—when they return to the States. But from this tour they’ll always remember the Norsemen they rescued on June 25th.
The present Pedro team—129th—arrived to Camp Bastion on June 5th and has since had 400 rescue missions and helped save 215 allied soldiers’ lives. Their task is to evacuate soldiers to the field hospitals in the south of Afghanistan in under an hour in all kinds of weather.
The two wounded Danish soldiers are both doing well. The soldier that was shot in the leg was quickly back on the job. The other soldier—the one with a severe gunshot in the left upper arm—has lost a piece of the triceps muscle, hence his strength is not as strong as before the injury.
Both the Danish Norsemen team seven and the American 129th Pedro crew have now redeployed to their respective countries. The callsigns has been changed to avoid endangering the lives of the Danish soldiers.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Lifting Iran's nuclear veil
on: September 30, 2009, 08:15:58 AM
By GARY MILHOLLIN and VALERIE LINCY
Published: September 29, 2009
The disclosure of Iran’s secret nuclear plant has changed the way the West must negotiate with Tehran. While worrisome enough on its own, the plant at Qum may well be the first peek at something far worse: a planned, or even partly completed, hidden nuclear archipelago stretching across the country.
The Qum plant doesn’t make much sense as a stand-alone bomb factory. As described by American officials, the plant would house 3,000 centrifuges, able to enrich enough uranium for one or two bombs per year. Yet at their present rate of production, 3,000 of Iran’s existing IR-1 centrifuges would take two years to fuel a single bomb and 10 years for five weapons. This is too long a time frame for the American assessment to be feasible. To build one or two bombs a year, Iran would have to quadruple the centrifuges’ present production rate. (While this feat is theoretically within the centrifuges’ design limits, it is not one Iran has shown it can achieve.)
Perhaps Iran was planning to install more efficient centrifuges at the plant, like a version of the P-2 machine used by Pakistan. These could fuel a five-bomb arsenal in just over a year. But while we know Iran has tested such machines, there is no evidence that it can make them in bulk.
Regardless of the machines used, it would take a couple of years at the front end to get them installed. Iran would be looking at three to five years of high activity at the site, during which the risk of discovery would skyrocket.
Clearly, the new plant makes more sense if it is one of many. If Iran built a second plant of the same size as the Qum operation and ran them in tandem, the production times described above could be almost halved. And if Iran had a string of such plants, it would be able to fuel a small arsenal quickly enough to reduce greatly the chance of getting caught. This would also limit the damage if one site were discovered or bombed, because its loss might not affect the others. Such a secret string of plants, however, would probably require a secret source of uranium. Intelligence agencies have been looking for such a source; the Qum discovery should be a signal to increase their efforts.
The Qum plant might also be linked to Iran’s known enrichment plant at Natanz, which is under inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Natanz has a stockpile of uranium that is already enriched partway to weapon-grade. By feeding this uranium into the new Qum plant, Iran could fuel one bomb in about seven months, even at the present low production rate. If the rate were quadrupled, as Washington is projecting, the plant could fuel a five-bomb arsenal in less than a year.
But because the Natanz plant is being watched over by international inspectors, diversion of its material would probably be detected. The question is whether Iran might chance it, deciding that its production rate was high enough to give it a nuclear deterrent before other countries could organize a response to the diversion.
Having begun the Qum plant to supply a bomb’s fuel, wouldn’t Iran also create what’s needed to produce the rest of the bomb’s components? This means laboratories to perfect nuclear weapon detonation and workshops to produce the firing sets, high-explosive lenses and other necessary parts. Although there is plenty of suspicion that such sites exist, Iran has not admitted having them.
All must be found. When talks begin in Geneva tomorrow, there should be little concern with the formerly dominant question of suspending enrichment at Natanz. Rather, Iran must be made to produce a complete map of its nuclear sites, together with a history of how each was created and provisioned.
This means getting access to scientists, records, equipment and sites. It is a lot to ask, and we may not have the leverage to get it. But anything less will provide no protection against what we now know is Iran’s determination to build the bomb.
Gary Milhollin directs the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control. Valerie Lincy is the editor of Iranwatch.org.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Faster reduction
on: September 30, 2009, 08:11:36 AM
General Says Iraq Troop Reductions May Quicken Recommend
By THOM SHANKER
Published: September 29, 2009
WASHINGTON — The senior American commander in Iraq said Tuesday that he could reduce American forces to 50,000 troops even before the end of next summer if the expected January elections in Iraq went smoothly.
Gen. Ray Odierno said he had drafted a new plan for transferring duties to the Iraqis. That could ease the strain across the American armed forces and free up extra combat units for duty in the Afghanistan war, which has become a priority for the Obama administration.
In an interview at the Pentagon, the commander, Gen. Ray Odierno, said he had already ordered some service members and equipment diverted from the Iraq mission to Afghanistan, in particular surveillance aircraft and units known as “combat enablers,” which include engineers for clearing roadside bombs and military police officers for training Afghan forces.
The United States and Iraq agreed last year that American combat forces would be out of Iraq by August 2010, leaving 50,000 troops to advise and support the Iraqis. Since that schedule was set, the need for troops in Afghanistan has made that timing especially important — all the more so if commanders in Afghanistan formally request even more troops and President Obama agrees. In recent months American combat forces pulled out of Iraq’s city centers.
General Odierno described his continuing security concerns, especially in the north of Iraq, where there are deep Kurdish-Arab tensions and where homegrown insurgents who claim allegiance to Al Qaeda continue to operate.
But the general said he was confident enough in the path to stability — with orderly elections and a smooth transfer of power in the winter — that he had drafted a new plan that set out how the duties now performed by American forces would be increasingly transferred to Iraqis before the full withdrawal, planned for Dec. 31, 2011. For the final year and a half or so, the Americans would be advising and training the Iraqis and providing logistics to them.
He did caution that if the Iraqi government and military were not able to shoulder the entire burden of responsibility by that deadline, the ministries in Baghdad would have to rely for support on civilian United States agencies, in particular the State and Treasury Departments.
“We failed the first time in 2003, when things were fairly calm and we didn’t have a plan to transition what we had done militarily over to a civilian-led solution to help solve these problems,” General Odierno said.
“We have another opportunity here in 2010 and 2011 to do this,” he added. “What are the enduring functions that have to be transitioned over that will continue to build Iraqi civilian capacity and continue to improve their ability to provide security? We are very focused on that.”
The new Joint Campaign Plan was written in partnership with the American Embassy in Baghdad, the general said, and should be approved later this fall as the detailed map guiding the American withdrawal from Iraq.
The next benchmark for the American military withdrawal is Aug. 31, 2010, when forces must drop to 50,000. Military officers based in Baghdad said Tuesday that American military forces in Iraq numbered slightly more than 124,000, a reduction of 40,000 since 2008.
General Odierno said he had no intention of dropping below the 50,000-troop level required under a bilateral security agreement by the end of August, but he said he might reach that level before the deadline.
“Between now and May, I could accelerate the drawdown,” he said. “If we get through successful elections, and you seat the government peacefully, that provides another level of stability. That will help to reduce tensions.”
General Odierno said he had discussed the military needs for Afghanistan with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the senior commander in Kabul, and with Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top officer in the Middle East, and he said all three had agreed that the military urgently required surveillance and transport aircraft in Afghanistan, as well as engineers and military police officers.
“We have been able to move some already over to Afghanistan,” General Odierno said. “We don’t want to affect the mission in Iraq, but we know some of this is needed in Afghanistan. I think we’ve been able to balance this so far.”
He said overall progress in Iraq was “slow, steady.” The leadership of Iraq’s security units has improved, and there is less sectarianism within these forces, the general said. But pitfalls remain.
“There is still too much political interference in the military,” General Odierno said. “That has always been a case there. It is better than it was, but it is still too much, and from a lot of different sources.”
The north of Iraq remains a serious security concern, especially in Nineveh Province, where, he said, “Al Qaeda in Iraq is still trying to re-establish a foothold and then be able to extend its tentacles down into Baghdad.”
Minority tensions, in particular between Kurds and Arabs in the north, are also a “driver of instability” and could be “exploited to destabilize the government of Iraq,” he noted.
And Iran has not halted its efforts to train insurgents and to send weapons and money in a bid for influence across the southern provinces of Iraq, General Odierno said, although Iranian agents “have reduced some of what they are doing.”
Even so, he said that Iraqi security forces continued to intercept large shipments of weapons and high-powered explosives sent from Iran.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT admits
on: September 30, 2009, 08:07:33 AM
I forget exactly where I saw/heard it in the last day or two, but apparently Pravda on the Hudson has admitted that it came very late to the Van Jones story and that the little coverage it gave had the appearance of political favoratism and that it had decided to have someone monitor the opinion media for ideas about stories.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pravda on the Hudson: Iran-China
on: September 30, 2009, 08:04:54 AM
BEIJING — Leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee swept into Beijing last month to meet with Chinese officials, carrying a plea from Washington: if Iran were to be kept from developing nuclear weapons, China would have to throw more diplomatic weight behind the cause.
In fact, the appeal had been largely answered even before the legislators arrived.
In June, China National Petroleum signed a $5 billion deal to develop the South Pars natural gas field in Iran. In July, Iran invited Chinese companies to join a $42.8 billion project to build seven oil refineries and a 1,019-mile trans-Iran pipeline. And in August, almost as the Americans arrived in China, Tehran and Beijing struck another deal, this time for $3 billion, that will pave the way for China to help Iran expand two more oil refineries.
The string of energy deals appalled the Democratic chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Howard L. Berman of California, who called them “exactly the wrong message” to send to an Iran that seemed determined to flout international nuclear rules.
But some analysts see another message: as the United States issues new calls to punish Iran for secretly expanding its nuclear program, it is not at all clear that Washington’s interests are the same as Beijing’s.
That will make it doubly difficult, these analysts say, to push meaningful sanctions against Iran through the United Nations Security Council, where China not only holds a veto but has also been one of Iran’s more reliable defenders.
“Their threat perception on this issue is different from ours,” said Zalmay Khalilzad, who as the American ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush helped persuade China to approve limited sanctions against Iran. “They don’t see Iran in the same way as we do.”
François Godement, a prominent China scholar and the president of the Paris-based Asia Center, put it more bluntly. “Basically,” he said, “the rise of Iran is not bad news for China.”
To be sure, China and the United States, leading members of the club of nuclear nations, share a practical interest in halting the spread of nuclear weapons to volatile areas like the Middle East. And it is in China’s interest to avoid alienating the United States, its economic and, increasingly, diplomatic partner on matters of global importance.
But beyond that, many experts say, their differences over Iran are not only economic but also ideological and strategic.
The United States has almost no financial ties with Iran, regards its government as a threat to global stability and worries that a rising Tehran would threaten American alliances and energy agreements in the Persian Gulf.
In contrast, China’s economic links to Tehran are growing rapidly, and China’s leaders see Iran not as a threat but as a potential ally. Nor would the Chinese be distressed, the reasoning goes, should a nuclear-armed Iran sap American influence in the region and drain the Pentagon’s resources in more Middle East maneuvering.
“Chinese leaders view Iran as a country of great potential power, perhaps already the economic and, maybe, militarily dominant power in that region,” said John W. Garver, a professor of international relations at Georgia Tech and the author of “China and Iran: Ancient Partners in a Post-Imperial World.”
An alliance with Tehran, he said, would be a bulwark against what China suspects is an American plan to maintain global dominance by controlling Middle Eastern energy supplies.
Beyond that, China relies heavily on Iran’s vast energy reserves — perhaps 15 percent of the world’s natural gas deposits and a tenth of its oil — to offset its own shortages. The Chinese are estimated to have $120 billion committed to Iranian gas and oil projects, and China has been Iran’s biggest oil export market for the past five years. In return, Iran has loaded up on imported Chinese machine tools, factory equipment, locomotives and other heavy goods, building China into one of its largest trading partners.
China scholars say that the relationship is anything but one-sided. Iran has skillfully parceled out its oil and gas reserves to Chinese companies, holding exploration and development as a sort of insurance policy to retain Chinese diplomatic backing in the United Nations.
For its part, China has opposed stiff sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program, acceding mostly to restrictions on trade in nuclear-related materials and orders to freeze the overseas assets of some Iranian companies.
Many experts question how much more punishment Beijing would agree to support. Iran has already been cited three times by the Security Council, with Beijing’s backing, for flouting prohibitions against its nuclear program.
In each case, Beijing agreed to measures only after stronger American proposals had been watered down and after Russia, the Council’s other critic of stiff sanctions and a close ally of Iran, had signed off on the proposal.
One noted Chinese analyst, Shi Yinhong of People’s University in Beijing, said in a telephone interview this week that China would probably follow much the same course should a new sanctions proposal reach the Security Council.
“China will do its utmost to find a balance” between Iran and the United States, Mr. Shi said. If Russia joins the other Council members in supporting a new sanctions resolution, he said, “China will do its best to try to dilute it, to make it limited, rather than veto it.”
But it is unlikely to do so happily. Supporting stronger sanctions might elevate China’s image as a global diplomatic leader, but the United States, not China, would reap the real benefits.
“China is not anxious to jump on this American train,” said one Chinese analyst, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to freely assess China’s foreign policy.
Li Bibo contributed research.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Taliban's Toll
on: September 30, 2009, 07:55:19 AM
Second post of the morning-- the first is the more important one.
The Taliban’s Toll
How American taxpayer dollars are being used to fund our Afghan enemies
Kelley Beaucar Vlahos
Forget opium poppies for a moment. The Taliban has another huge source of revenue, worth up to $1 billion a year, which generously supplements its heroin-trafficking income and the cash-flow from rich oil sheiks in the Persian Gulf.
This money comes from you.
The allegation that millions of dollars of U.S aid and military funds have been siphoned off by the Taliban through elaborate extortion rackets is not something government officials readily discuss. But the departing head of the Army Corps of Engineers recently conceded that there was little his agency could do to stop it, and the U.S. State Department launched an investigation after reports of the scandal finally penetrated the mainstream news.
The Pentagon did not respond to TAC’s inquiries about charges that local contractors who deliver supplies and equipment to remote NATO bases in Afghanistan are charging Western governments “protection money” to pay off the Taliban, or Taliban-connected middlemen, to protect convoys along dangerous overland supply routes. Yet a growing consensus supports a fearsome prospect: U.S. taxpayers are funding the enemy.
“If you don’t pay, you will get attacked, you will not get through,” says Peter Jouvenal, a British expat and former BBC journalist who has been living and working in Kabul for nearly 30 years. He has operated several businesses in Afghanistan, including a small trucking company. “Everybody wins in the short-term,” he tells TAC. “The Taliban get their money, and the contractors get their money, and the soldiers get their food and fuel supplies. The only one that loses out is the United States taxpayer, who has to foot the bill for all this. That would be acceptable if we were achieving something, but we’re not.”
In late August, McClatchy News reported that the Taliban now controls districts in two key northern provinces along the new major supply route coming in from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, running through the Hindu Kush mountains and toward the U.S. military’s massive Bagram Air Base.
Yet supplies are getting through. Reports suggest that contractors big and small are paying the price for secure delivery, then off-loading that cost to their clients—the military, USAID, or whatever Western aid organization is footing the bill. There is lots of money to be made. At the beginning of this year, Washington announced it would be spending upwards of $4 billion to construct new facilities and upgrade old ones in order to support the Af-Pak “surge. ” The strategy included three new combat brigades, as well as new facilities for Afghan soldiers, not to mention the accompanying army of private contractors supporting them.
And that’s only part of the story. The U.S. has already appropriated $38 billion since 2001 in humanitarian aid and reconstruction funding for its post-invasion nation-building exercises, and the Obama administration wants to increase spending. According to recent reports, much of this money has already disappeared into the pockets of Taliban racketeers, calling into question the success of Western investment over the past eight years. “Virtually every major project includes a healthy cut for insurgents. Call it protection money, call it extortion, or, as the Taliban prefer to term it, ‘the spoils of war,’ the fact remains that international donors, primarily the United States, are to a large extent financing their own enemy,” wrote Jean MacKenzie, Kabul correspondent for the GlobalPost, in August.
MacKenzie is one of the few reporters who have tried to run the numbers: the manager of an Afghan firm with “lucrative construction contracts with the U.S government” builds in a “minimum” charge of 20 percent for Taliban payouts, she writes. He tells his friends privately that he makes upwards of $1 million per month, $200,000 of which goes to Taliban heavies.
“It adds up, of course,” says MacKenzie, estimating that the “outside limit” of the Taliban’s extortion earnings comes to roughly $1 billion a year. Add to that other sources of corruption in Afghanistan—whether it is the police, the politicians, the elections, or abusive Western contractors—and the picture of the Af-Pak effort starts to look pretty bleak.
Even worse, it seems that insurgents might be ripping off some contractors, allowing them to proceed with their business, only to turn and use their ill-gotten gains to attack other allied convoys. In the Sept. 7 issue of Time magazine, Aryn Baker and Shah Mahmood Barakzai reported from Kabul that a week before a deadly Taliban blast in Kunduz killed four American soldiers, a local businessman, who had been subcontracted by a firm working for the German government, admitted to paying a cash bribe of $15,000 to a “Taliban middleman.” No one can prove that any of that money went toward assembling the makeshift bomb that killed the troops. “Nevertheless,” conclude Baker and Barakzai, “it is likely that a substantial amount of aid money from many countries—including the U.S.—has made its way, directly or indirectly, into the Taliban’s coffers.”
As the Obama administration struggles to come to terms with the looming reality that the Taliban might have the upper hand in this war, the last thing that government officials and members of Congress want to talk about is the idea that the enemy has his hand in the American purse. Requests for comment to key members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee went unanswered. Requests to House members who had just returned from Afghanistan were met with similar silence.
Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing David Cohen has admitted there is a problem, but will not talk about specifics or scope. In a statement consisting of just two lines, he said, “The Taliban obtains revenues from a variety of sources, including extortion of funds from both legitimate and unlawful activity in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” He finished by saying that an interagency task force had been convened to combat “funding for violent extremist groups.”
Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke, overcoming the American chain of command’s habitual preoccupation with opium poppies, has acknowledged that the Taliban does not just make money from the country’s $4 billion drug trade. “In the past there was a kind of a feeling that the money all came from drugs in Afghanistan,” he told reporters in Pakistan in June. “That is simply not true.”
“Rackets, extortion, kidnapping and bank heists are all helping the Pakistani Taliban pay the bills,” wrote Shahan Mufti for GlobalPost in August. In an April report about the NATO supply lines through Pakistan into Afghanistan, private intelligence provider Stratfor said:
The Taliban and their jihadist affiliates are ideologically driven to target Western forces and increase the cost for them to remain in the region. There are also a number of criminally motivated fighters who adopt the Taliban label as a convenient cover but who are far more interested in making a profit. Both groups can benefit from racketeering enterprises that allow them to extort hefty protection fees from private security firms in return for the contractors’ physical safety.
Holbrooke preferred to steer clear of that particular angle. Instead, he used the apparently candid moment to try to shift attention toward the shady international donors who send gifts to the Taliban through tenebrous charities and the like. It is true that foreign donations represent a thorny problem, though the issue is clearly not as embarrassing for the U.S. government as the thought of some Taliban middleman becoming $10,000 richer so that German International Security Alliance Forces could refill their watering holes.
Over the summer months, the Taliban has revealed, once more, what a cunning adversary it can be—busily skimming off cash from our altruism and manipulating the supply chain, either by bombing our convoys or shaking them down. Thus the destructive cycle evolves. Profiteers and insurgents thrive as long as the payoffs exceed the risks. We deploy more troops, who need more supplies, more fuel, more shelter, which in turn provide more targets for extortion and more revenue for the insurgency.
Jouvenal, a seasoned commentator on Afghanistan, calls it “business as usual.” “Afghans all know the West has failed,” he says. “This time, when the West packs up … the Taliban will come back and a lot of people will become refugees again. The thought is to make as much money as you can because you don’t know when you will be a refugee again.” The scramble to extort money, he explains, “increases, as time runs out.”
The Afghans seem able to grasp the reality of things. How long will it take us to get wise to this self-perpetuating disaster?
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Dementia Risks seen in NFL study
on: September 30, 2009, 07:46:48 AM
IMHO the demands of logic require that we note that there are alternative explanations possible. Football players, especially linemen, eat HUGE amounts of food-- and for many of them much of it may not be very concerned with healthy longevity. IIRC there are correlations with dementia with certain diets. That said, blows to the head are serious and this area deserves our scrutiny and our reflection.
Dementia Risk Seen in Players in N.F.L. Study
Published: September 29, 2009
A study commissioned by the National Football League reports that Alzheimer’s disease or similar memory-related diseases appear to have been diagnosed in the league’s former players vastly more often than in the national population — including a rate of 19 times the normal rate for men ages 30 through 49.
The N.F.L. has long denied the existence of reliable data about cognitive decline among its players. These numbers would become the league’s first public affirmation of any connection, though the league pointed to limitations of this study.
The findings could ring loud at the youth and college levels, which often take cues from the N.F.L. on safety policies and whose players emulate the pros. Hundreds of on-field concussions are sustained at every level each week, with many going undiagnosed and untreated.
A detailed summary of the N.F.L. study, which was conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, was distributed to league officials this month.
The study has not been peer-reviewed, but the findings fall into step with several recent independent studies regarding N.F.L. players and the effects of their occupational head injuries.
“This is a game-changer — the whole debate, the ball’s now in the N.F.L.’s court,” said Dr. Julian Bailes, the chairman of the department of neurosurgery at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, and a former team physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers whose research found similar links four years ago. “They always say, ‘We’re going to do our own studies.’ And now they have.”
Sean Morey, an Arizona Cardinals player who has been vocal in supporting research in this area, said: “This is about more than us — it’s about the high school kid in 2011 who might not die on the field because he ignored the risks of concussions.”
An N.F.L. spokesman, Greg Aiello, said in an e-mail message that the study did not formally diagnose dementia, that it was subject to shortcomings of telephone surveys and that “there are thousands of retired players who do not have memory problems.”
“Memory disorders affect many people who never played football or other sports,” Mr. Aiello said. “We are trying to understand it as it relates to our retired players.”
As scrutiny of brain injuries in football players has escalated the past three years, with prominent professionals reporting cognitive problems and academic studies supporting a link more generally, the N.F.L. and its medical committee on concussions have steadfastly denied the existence of reliable data on the issue. The league pledged to pursue its own studies, including the one at the University of Michigan.
Dr. Ira Casson, a co-chairman of the concussions committee who has been the league’s primary voice denying any evidence connecting N.F.L. football and dementia, said: “What I take from this report is there’s a need for further studies to see whether or not this finding is going to pan out, if it’s really there or not. I can see that the respondents believe they have been diagnosed. But the next step is to determine whether that is so.”
The N.F.L. is conducting its own rigorous study of 120 retired players, with results expected within a few years. All neurological examinations are being conducted by Dr. Casson.
According to a 37-page synopsis of the study furnished to the league, the Michigan researchers conducted a phone survey in late 2008 in which 1,063 retired players — those who participated from an original random list of 1,625 — were asked questions on a variety of health topics. Players had to have played at least three or four seasons to qualify. Questions were derived from the standard National Health Interview Survey so rates could be compared with those previously collected from the general population, the report said.
Some health issues were reported by N.F.L. retirees at normal rates (kidney and prostate problems), while others were higher (sleep apnea and elevated cholesterol) and others lower (heart attacks and ulcers), the summary said.
The researchers also asked players — or a caregiver for those who could not answer — if they had ever been diagnosed with “dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other memory-related disease.”
The Michigan researchers found that 6.1 percent of players age 50 and above reported that they had received a dementia-related diagnosis, five times higher than the cited national average, 1.2 percent. Players ages 30 through 49 showed a rate of 1.9 percent, or 19 times that of the national average, 0.1 percent.
The paper itself questioned the reliability of using phone surveys to assess prevalence rates of diagnosed dementia, as did several experts in telephone interviews. For example, some of those affected may not be reachable; then again, N.F.L. players may have greater access to doctors to make the diagnosis. The lead researcher, David R. Weir, said in an interview that proxies might have been handled differently in past studies.
Page 2 of 2)
“This suggests something suspicious,” said Dr. Amy Borenstein, professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida. “But it’s something that must be looked at with a more rigorous study.”
Dr. Daniel P. Perl, the director of neuropathology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, agreed with Dr. Borenstein but described the Michigan work as significant. “I think this complements what others have found — there appears to be a problem with cognition in a group of N.F.L. football players at a relatively young age,” he said.
All rates appear small. But if they are accurate, they would have arresting real-life effects when applied across a population as large as living N.F.L. retirees. A normal rate of cognitive disease among N.F.L. retirees age 50 and above (of whom there are about 4,000) would result in 48 of them having the condition; the rate in the Michigan study would lead to 244. Among retirees ages 30 through 49 (of whom there are about 3,000), the normal rate cited by the Michigan researchers would yield about 3 men experiencing problems; the rate reported among N.F.L. retirees leads to an estimate of 57.
So the Michigan findings suggest that although 50 N.F.L. retirees would be expected to have dementia or memory-related disease, the actual number could be more like 300. This would not prove causation in any individual case, but it would support a connection between pro football careers and heightened prevalence of later-life cognitive decline that the league has long disputed.
After the University of North Carolina’s Center for the Study of Retired Athletes published survey-based papers in 2005 through 2007 that found a correlation between N.F.L. football and depression, dementia and other cognitive impairment, a member of the N.F.L. concussion committee called the findings “virtually worthless.”
After initiating a fund in 2007 that provides financial assistance to retirees receiving care for dementia, the league insisted that it was doing so only because the disease “affects many elderly people” well beyond N.F.L. players. And a pamphlet that the league gives every player about concussion risks states, “Research is currently under way to determine if there are any long-term effects of concussion in N.F.L. athletes.”
“It’s time to edit that brochure,” said Kevin Mawae of the Tennessee Titans, the president of the N.F.L. Players Association. “Now it’s in their words and not just other people’s.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Muhlenberg, 1776
on: September 30, 2009, 07:33:54 AM
"There is a time for all things, a time to preach and a time to pray, but those times have passed away. There is a time to fight, and that time has now come." --Peter Muhlenberg, from a Lutheran sermon read at Woodstock, Virginia, 1776
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / An interesting read from India
on: September 30, 2009, 06:41:31 AM
US policy-makers had hoped that the taking-over of Gen. David Petraeus as the commander of the US Central Command, and Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the US Commander in Afghanistan working under Gen.Petraeus would bring about a more proactive strategy to weaken the Taliban and create a divide between it and the Afghan people. The two had earned a reputation in Iraq for reversing the fortunes of Al Qaeda and the former Baathist soldiers of Saddam Hussein, creating a divide between the two and enlisting the support of different tribal leaders and through them their followers for the US military operations. The improvement in the ground situation in Iraq----though not yet irreversible--- was largely due to their thinking, planning and execution.
2. Hopes in Washington that the two Generals would bring about similar results in Afghanistan have been belied so far.The Af-Pak troika of the administration of Barack Obama---- Richard Holbrooke, Obama's special representative for the Af-Pak region, who handles the political and diplomatic angles, and the two Generals--- has not been able to come to grips with the problem almost six months after the new Af-Pak policy of the Obama adminstration was launched in March last. The present ground situation favours the Pakistan-based Neo Taliban. Since the two Generals took over, the Neo Taliban has been able to increase and strengthen its presence in the north too. The situation is still one of a bleeding stalemate, but the prospects of the US-led forces breaking the stalemate and prevailing over the Neo Taliban are not any the brighter since the two Generals took over.
3. The dilemma posed by the worrisome ground situation is reflected in the growing impression that Obama's Af-Pak strategy has failed to take off and is unlikely to take off and that the time has come to think of a new strategy in which the key to success would be in Pakistan and not in Afghanistan.Vice-President Joe Biden seems to favour a change of focus from a Neo Taliban-centric strategy in Afghanistan to an Al Qaeda-centric one in Pakistan.
4.Presently, the political pressure is on Pakistan to act against the Taliban and Al Qaeda elements operating from sanctuaries in its territory and on the Hamid Karzai Government in Kabul to improve governance, reduce corruption and pay better attention to the problems of the people in the areas controlled by the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the US-led Western forces.
5. Neither of these pressures has worked. Nor have the never-ending incentives offered by the US to Pakistan---the latest of which is the expected passage by both Houses of the US Congress of the Kerry-Lugar Bill making a long term commitment of US$ 7.5 billion to Pakistan in the form of non-military aid over a period of five years. The military aid, which too continues to increase, will be in addition. Original expectations when Obama assumed office in January last that strict benchmarks would be laid down for the periodic disbursements of this aid in order to ensure that Pakistan does act sincerely and firmly against the terrorists have been belied.The more Pakistan is pampered, the less it acts against the terrorists. That has been the lesson since 9/11 and this lesson has not been learnt by the officials of the Obama administration.This is evident even from the grim Assessment dated August 30,2009, prepared by Gen.McChrystal, on the basis of which he is reported to be planning to ask for another surge of 21000 US troops--- a request over which Obama is reportedly not enthusiastic.
6. The pressures on Karzai to improve governance have not worked either. This is partly due to the difficult ground situation, which would pose a dilemma to any ruler---however democratic and however competent. Moreover, instead of strengthening the position of Karzai, US officials have done everything to weaken his credibility in the eyes of his own people as well as the international community through allegations---some true, many unwisely inspired--- regarding his inability or unwillingness to act against corruption and narcotics production and rigging in the Presidential elections. Even if he wins the elections in the first round itself----as he is expected to--- the importance of that victory has already been diluted by these allegations. US officials take a lot of care not to say or do anything, which might weaken the position of the Pakistani leadership, but they do not take similar care in respect of Karzai.
7.In the existing gloomy scenario, there are only two positive factors, which provide some cheer. Firstly, the improvement in the flow of human intelligence to the US intelligence community from sources in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, which has led to some significant sucesses in the form of eradication of some middle-level leaders of Al Qaeda and even senior leaders of the Pakistan Taliban known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) by US drone strikes. After having eliminated Baitullah Mehsud, the Amir of the TTP, the Drone strikes are now focussed on eliminating the Haqqani network consisting of the old Soviet era mujahideen warrior Jalaluddin Haqqani and his sons. If the US succeeds in eliminating the Haqqani network--- I hope it will--- the pressure on the US forces in Afghan territory could lessen--- at least in the short term. As against this, the impact of the elimination of Baitullah on the ground situation in Afghanistan would be minimal. His elimination was more a boon to the Pakistani security forces grappling with terrorists of their own creation in their territory than to the US-led Western forces in Afghanistan.
8.The second positive factor is the role of India as a force for stability in Afghanistan. Any objective analyst has to concede that the various road construction, democracy-promotion and people-oriented programmes undertaken by India in the areas controlled by the Government of Afghanistan have benefitted not only the people of Afghanistan immensely, but also the long-term Western objective of a democratic, modern Afghanistan.
9. One would have expected the US policy-makers not only to recognise the importance of retaining the role of India as a force for stability, but also encouraging India to expand further its people-oriented role in Afghanistan. In his assessment, McChrystal recognises --- though somewhat grudgingly-- the beneficial role of India and the support for that role from the Karzai Government, but one is surprised to find that he shows understanding for the Pakistani concerns over India's role and hints that these concerns have to be taken into consideration while formulating any revised strategy. He himself says that no strategy will work unless it is people-oriented, but at the same time wants something to be done to address Pakistani concerns over India's people-oriented role.
10.The Afghan people---whether Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbecks or others--- distrust and hate the Pakistanis after seeing the role played by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the creation and fattening of the Taliban since 1994. One saw the extent of the hatred for the Pakistanis when the American and Northern Alliance troops entered Kabul in 2001 under Operation Enduring Freedom. Pakistanis assisting the Taliban Government in Kabul were hunted, killed and their dead bodies thrown into the gutters of Kabul.
11. Gen.McChrystal's ideas, if implemented, would provide an environment for the re-assertion of the hated Pakistani role by paying attention to Pakistani concerns over India's positive role.This shows how short-sighted US policy-makers and military-officers can be.The General's assessment is disappointing because it fails to put its finger on the crux of the dilemma being faced by the US-led Western forces, similar to the dilemma which the Soviet troops faced in Afghanistan in the 1980s before they decided to quit in 1988.This dilemma arose in the case of the Soviet troops and has now arisen in the case of the US-led Western troops from the absence of a counter-sanctuaries component to the counter-insurgency strategy.
12.The reluctance of the Soviet troops to take their fighting to the sanctuaries of the Afghan Mujahideen in Pakistani territory led to a situation where the Soviet troops kept bleeding till battle fatigue and public disenchantment with the war set in. Similarly, the absence of an effective counter-sanctuaries component is leading to a situation where the US and other Western forces as well as the ANA are bleeding more and more. There are already the incipient signs of a battle fatigue as cound be seen even from the General's assessment and the beginning of a public disenchantment with the involvement in Afghanistan. This disenchantment is already pronounced in West Europe and Canada and one could see the beginning of it even in the US. Instead of allowing the Neo Taliban to infiltrate in increasing numbers from its sanctuaries and recruiting grounds in the FATA and the Pashtun majority areas of Balochistan and then fighting or countering their ambushes in Afghan territory, the US should take its counter-insurgency operations to the camps of the Neo Taliban in adjoining Pakistani territory----whether in the FATA or in Balochistan.
13. The US already has an air-mounted counter-sanctuaries strategy in the FATA with the help of the Drones, which provide a deniable way of hitting at the sanctuaries of Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban and the Neo Taliban. This strategy has had its successes, but, despite them, has proved inadequate. Initially, these strikes were concentrated on the sanctuaries of Al Qaeda and its allies in North Waziristan. Earlier this year, when there was a danger of the TTP expanding its presence to the non-tribal areas and posing a danger to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, the focus of the Drone strikes shifted to South Waziristan against the sanctuaries of the TTP.During the last six months or so, the objective of these strikes became not protecting the NATO forces and the ANA in Afghanistan from attacks mounted from the Pakistani territory, but assisting the Pakistan Army in reversing the advance of the TTP into the non-tribal areas. After killing Baitullah in the first week of August, the US has again changed the direction and is now focussing on the Haqqani network, whose threat is more in Afghan territory than in the FATA. The US has not been able to mount a full-scale operation against Al Qaeda sanctuaries in North Waziristan due to the dispersal of its resources to South Waziristan for use against the TTP.
14. Even this limited success has not been there against the staging grounds of the Neo Taliban in Balochistan.The US continues to depend on the Pakistan Army for action against the sanctuaries of the Neo Taliban. The ISI-sponsored Neo Taliban is the only asset left with the Pakistan Army for regaining its primacy in Afghanistan if and when the US and other Western troops leave Afghanistan. Pakistan wants to regain this primacy without the direct deployment of its own army as it did in the 1990s. If the US is waiting for the Pakistan Army to act against the Neo Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistani territory, this is not going to happen. The US has only two alternatives---either itself act against the sanctuaries in Balochistan and destroy the Neo Taliban leadership in order to restore the damaged image of the US forces in Afghanistan, thereby paving the way for an honourable exit or keep its operations confined to Afghan territory, thereby continuing to bleed and face the prospect of an exit forced on the US by the Neo Taliban under humiliating conditions.
15.The role of the Drones---even if extended to Balochistan-- may not be as effective as their role in the FATA. The places in the FATA where the sanctuaries of Al Qaeda,the TTP and the Haqqani network are located are far from inhabited areas. The dangers of civilian fatalities are not large. In the Quetta and adjoining areas of Balochistan, the sanctuaries of the Neo Taliban are located in inhabited areas. It would be very difficult---almost impossible---to avoid large civilian fatalities. Deniable ground operations would, therefore, be necessary to eliminate the sanctuaries of the Neo Taliban. The US has the capability for such ground operations, but does not have the political will to use it lest it add to the already high anti-US feelings in Pakistan and affect even the limited co-operration which it has presently been getting from Pakistan in the FATA.
16. This danger of adverse reaction in Pakistan has to be faced if the US wants to bring about better ground conditions, which would enable it to contemplate withdrawing from Afghanistan with honour and with some confidence that Afghanistan will not revert to its pre-9/11 position of being the rear base for Al Qaeda. Before contemplating withdrawal, the US has to destroy Al Qaeda sanctuaries, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, in the FATA, the Haqqani network and the Neo Taliban sanctuaries in Balochistan. It has to come to terms with the hard reality that this is something which the US has to do without depending on Pakistan.Pakistan and Al Qaeda are biding their time hoping that after the US withdrawal, they can move into Afghanistan once again. This should not be allowed to happen.
17. Instead of discussing the various options available in this regard,McChrystal's report skirts the crux of the dilemma and discusses other issues having little relevance to a counter-sanctuaries strategy. His assessment reads more like one prepared by a senior officer attending a joint staff course than a recommendation for action prepared by an officer in charge of command and control. It is possible there is a classified part of the Assessment in which McChrystal discusses a counter-sanctuaries strategy. If not, his thinking doesn't bode well for the ultimate success of the US operations in the Af-Pak region.
18. This may please be read in continuation of my earlier paper of May 13,2009, titled "The Af-Pak Situation--An Update", at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers32/paper3186.html
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Doing the same thing and expecting different results
on: September 29, 2009, 07:38:30 PM
We've Been Talking to Iran for 30 Years
The seizure of the U.S. embassy followed the failure of Carter administration talks with Ayatollah Khomeini's regime..
By MICHAEL LEDEEN
The Obama administration's talks with Iran—set to take place tomorrow in Geneva—are accompanied by an almost universally accepted misconception: that previous American administrations refused to negotiate with Iranian leaders. The truth, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said last October at the National Defense University, is that "every administration since 1979 has reached out to the Iranians in one way or another and all have failed."
After the fall of the shah in February 1979, the Carter administration attempted to establish good relations with the revolutionary regime. We offered aid, arms and understanding. The Iranians demanded that the United States honor all arms deals with the shah, remain silent about human-rights abuses carried out by the new regime, and hand over Iranian "criminals" who had taken refuge in America. The talks ended with the seizure of the American Embassy in November.
President Jimmy Carter announces that the U.S. will seek economic sanctions against Iran, Dec. 21, 1979. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance looks on.
.The Reagan administration—driven by a desire to gain the release of the American hostages—famously sought a modus vivendi with Iran in the midst of the Iran-Iraq War during the mid-1980s. To that end, the U.S. sold weapons to Iran and provided military intelligence about Iraqi forces. High-level American officials such as Robert McFarlane met secretly with Iranian government representatives to discuss the future of the relationship. This effort ended when the Iran-Contra scandal erupted in late 1986.
The Clinton administration lifted sanctions that had been imposed by Messrs. Carter and Reagan. During the 1990s, Iranians (including the national wrestling team) entered the U.S. for the first time since the '70s. The U.S. also hosted Iranian cultural events and unfroze Iranian bank accounts. President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright publicly apologized to Iran for purported past sins, including the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh's government by the CIA and British intelligence in August 1953. But it all came to nothing when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei proclaimed that we were their enemies in March 1999.
Most recently, the administration of George W. Bush—invariably and falsely described as being totally unwilling to talk to the mullahs—negotiated extensively with Tehran. There were scores of publicly reported meetings, and at least one very secret series of negotiations. These negotiations have rarely been described in the American press, even though they are the subject of a BBC documentary titled "Iran and the West."
At the urging of British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, the U.S. negotiated extensively with Ali Larijani, then-secretary of Iran's National Security Council. By September 2006, an agreement had seemingly been reached. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Nicholas Burns, her top Middle East aide, flew to New York to await the promised arrival of an Iranian delegation, for whom some 300 visas had been issued over the preceding weekend. Mr. Larijani was supposed to announce the suspension of Iranian nuclear enrichment. In exchange, we would lift sanctions. But Mr. Larijani and his delegation never arrived, as the BBC documentary reported.
Negotiations have always been accompanied by sanctions. But neither has produced any change in Iranian behavior.
Until the end of 2006—and despite appeals for international support, notably from Mr. Clinton—sanctions were almost exclusively imposed by the U.S. alone. Mr. Carter issued an executive order forbidding the sale of anything to Tehran except food and medical supplies. Mr. Reagan banned the importation of virtually all Iranian goods and services in October 1987. Mr. Clinton issued an executive order in March 1995 prohibiting any American involvement with petroleum development. The following May he issued an additional order tightening those sanctions. Five years later, Secretary of State Albright eased some of the sanctions by allowing Americans to buy and import carpets and some food products, such as dried fruits, nuts and caviar.
Mr. Bush took spare parts for commercial aircraft off the embargo list in the fall of 2006. On the other hand, in 2008 he revoked authorization of so-called U-turn transfers, making it illegal for any American bank to process transactions involving Iran—even if non-Iranian banks were at each end.
Throughout this period, our allies advocated for further diplomacy instead of sanctions. But beginning in late 2006, the United Nations started passing sanctions of its own. In December of that year, the Security Council blocked the import or export of "sensitive nuclear material and equipment" and called on member states to freeze the assets of anyone involved with Iran's nuclear program.
In 2007, the Security Council banned all arms exports from Iran, froze Iranian assets, and restricted the travel of anyone involved in the Iranian nuclear program. The following year, it called for investigations of Iranian banks, and authorized member countries to start searching planes and ships coming or going from or to Iran. All to no avail.
Thirty years of negotiations and sanctions have failed to end the Iranian nuclear program and its war against the West. Why should anyone think they will work now? A change in Iran requires a change in government. Common sense and moral vision suggest we should support the courageous opposition movement, whose leaders have promised to end support for terrorism and provide total transparency regarding the nuclear program.
Mr. Ledeen, a scholar at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, is the author, most recently, of "Accomplice to Evil: Iran and the War Against the West," out next month from St. Martin's Press.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / We don't need no stinkin' mens rea , , ,
on: September 29, 2009, 07:13:48 PM
When we think about the pace of change in technology, it's usually to marvel at how computing power has become cheaper and faster or how many new digital ways we have to communicate. Unfortunately, this pace of change is increasingly clashing with some of the slower-moving parts of our culture.
Technology moves so quickly we can barely keep up, and our legal system moves so slowly it can't keep up with itself. By design, the law is built up over time by court decisions, statutes and regulations. Sometimes even criminal laws are left vague, to be defined case by case. Technology exacerbates the problem of laws so open and vague that they are hard to abide by, to the point that we have all become potential criminals.
Boston civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate calls his new book "Three Felonies a Day," referring to the number of crimes he estimates the average American now unwittingly commits because of vague laws. New technology adds its own complexity, making innocent activity potentially criminal.
Mr. Silverglate describes several cases in which prosecutors didn't understand or didn't want to understand technology. This problem is compounded by a trend that has accelerated since the 1980s for prosecutors to abandon the principle that there can't be a crime without criminal intent.
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Boston civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate
.In 2001, a man named Bradford Councilman was charged in Massachusetts with violating the wiretap laws. He worked at a company that offered an online book-listing service and also acted as an Internet service provider to book dealers. As an ISP, the company routinely intercepted and copied emails as part of the process of shuttling them through the Web to recipients.
The federal wiretap laws, Mr. Silverglate writes, were "written before the dawn of the Internet, often amended, not always clear, and frequently lagging behind the whipcrack speed of technological change." Prosecutors chose to interpret the ISP role of momentarily copying messages as they made their way through the system as akin to impermissibly listening in on communications. The case went through several rounds of litigation, with no judge making the obvious point that this is how ISPs operate. After six years, a jury found Mr. Councilman not guilty.
Other misunderstandings of the Web criminalize the exercise of First Amendment rights. A Saudi student in Idaho was charged in 2003 with offering "material support" to terrorists. He had operated Web sites for a Muslim charity that focused on normal religious training, but was prosecuted on the theory that if a user followed enough links off his site, he would find violent, anti-American comments on other sites. The Internet is a series of links, so if there's liability for anything in an online chain, it would be hard to avoid prosecution.
Mr. Silverglate, a liberal who wrote a previous book taking the conservative position against political correctness on campuses, is a persistent, principled critic of overbroad statutes. This is a common problem in securities laws, which Congress leaves intentionally vague, encouraging regulators and prosecutors to try people even when the law is unclear. He reminds us of the long prosecution of Silicon Valley investment banker Frank Quattrone, which after five years resulted in a reversal of his criminal conviction on vague charges of obstruction of justice.
These miscarriages are avoidable. Under the English common law we inherited, a crime requires intent. This protection is disappearing in the U.S. As Mr. Silverglate writes, "Since the New Deal era, Congress has delegated to various administrative agencies the task of writing the regulations," even as "Congress has demonstrated a growing dysfunction in crafting legislation that can in fact be understood." Prosecutors identify defendants to go after instead of finding a law that was broken and figuring out who did it. Expect more such prosecutions as Washington adds regulations.
Sometimes legislators know when they make false distinctions based on technology. An "anti-cyberbullying" proposal is making its way through Congress, prompted by the tragic case of a 13-year-old girl driven to suicide by the mother of a neighbor posing as a teenage boy and posting abusive messages on MySpace. The law would prohibit using the Internet to "coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person." Imagine a law that tried to apply this control of speech to letters, editorials or lobbying.
Mr. Silverglate, who will testify against the bill later this week, tells me he figures that "being emotionally distressed is just part of living in a free society." New technologies like the Web, he concludes, "scare legislators because they don't understand them and want to control them, even as they become a normal part of life."
In a complex world of new technologies, there is more need than ever for clear rules of the road. Americans should expect that a crime requires bad intent and also that Congress and prosecutors will try to create clarity, not uncertainty. Our legal system has a lot of catching up to do to work smoothly with the rest of our lives.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: September 29, 2009, 02:06:31 PM
The Taliban in Afghanistan: An Assessment
Stratfor Today » September 28, 2009 | 1148 GMT
Three suspected Taliban held by Afghan police Aug. 18Summary
Nearly eight years after removing the Taliban from power in Kabul, U.S. and NATO International Security Assistance Force troops continue to struggle against an elusive enemy. As the United States and NATO ramp up their offensive against Taliban strongholds, STRATFOR examines the nature of the Afghan Taliban phenomenon: how they operate, what their motivations are and what constraints they face.
The Taliban are a direct product of the intra-Islamist civil war that erupted following the fall of the Afghan Marxist regime in 1992, only three years after the withdrawal of Soviet forces. Dating back to the 1950s, the Soviet-allied communist party in Afghanistan sought to undermine the local tribal structure: It wanted to gain power via central control. This strategy was extremely disruptive, and resulted in a deterioration in order and the evisceration of the traditional local/regional tribal ethnic system of relations. But these efforts could not dislodge regional and local warlords, who continued to fight amongst each other for territorial control with little regard for civilians, long the modus operandi in Afghanistan.
After the Islamist uprising against the communist takeover and the subsequent entry of Soviet troops into the country in 1979, disparate Afghan factions united under the banner of Islam, aided by the then-Islamist-leaning regime in neighboring Pakistan, which was backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia. In terms of the Taliban movement, Pakistan was the most influential, but Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were also involved — mostly through financial support. The Saudis had political and religious ties as well.
During this time, madrassas (Islamic schools) in Pakistan became incubators, drawing young, mostly ethnic Pashtun youth, who would in turn facilitate the later rise of the Taliban in the early/mid 1990s in the wake of the decline of the mujahedeen factions.
The madrassas were instrumental in providing assistance, allowing orphans or displaced war refugees to study in Pakistan while Afghanistan experienced a brutal civil war. Refugees were taught a particularly conservative brand of Islam (along with receiving training in guerrilla tactics) with the intention that when they returned to Afghanistan, Pakistan would be able to control these groups, maintaining a powerful lever over its volatile and often unpredictable neighbor.
These radicalized fighters, many of whom originated in the madrassas and considered themselves devoted students of Islam, labeled themselves “Taliban.” The name “Taliban” comes from the Pashtun word for student — “Talib” — with Taliban being the plural form. The Taliban restored some sense of law and order by enforcing their own brand of Shariah, where local warlords previously ruled as they pleased — often to the detriment of civilians. The Taliban, issuing arrests and executing offending warlords, avenged injustices such as rape, murder and theft. As a result, the Taliban won support from the locals by providing a greater sense of security and justice.
(click here to enlarge map)
By the mid-1990s, the Taliban had become more cohesive under their nominal leader from Kandahar, Mullah Mohammad Omar. The Taliban gained prominence as a faction in 1994 when they were able to impose order amid chaos in the Kandahar region. By 1996, Taliban forces had entered Kabul, overthrown then-President Burhanuddin Rabbani and claimed control, renaming the country “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” Omar was named the leader of the country but remained in Kandahar. It was during this rise to power that outside forces began partnering with the Taliban — namely al Qaeda — emphasizing their common radical Islamist ideology, but ultimately putting the Taliban in unsavory company. Pakistan and al Qaeda competed for influence over the Taliban, with Pakistan seeking to use them as leverage in Afghanistan and al Qaeda wanting to use the Taliban’s control over Afghanistan to spread their power throughout the Islamic world.
During their rule, the Taliban attempted to rid Afghanistan of any Western influences that had crept in, such as Western clothing, cinemas, music, schools and political ideologies. The proxy forces of the Pakistanis were now essentially governing the state, providing Pakistan with a tremendous amount of influence in Afghanistan, and, consequently, a very secure western border, which allowed Pakistan to focus on India to the east.
But this situation did not last long. Al Qaeda’s influence was on the upswing in Afghanistan, from which it staged 9/11. As a result, and after the refusal of the Taliban regime to disassociate itself from al Qaeda, the Pashtun jihadist group was forced out of power by U.S. forces in late 2001 following 9/11. (The United States implicated the Taliban for providing sanctuary to al Qaeda.) Instead of fighting against conventionally superior U.S. and NATO forces, the Taliban retreated into the rural southern and eastern traditional strongholds, returning to their traditional support bases. In other words, despite both claims and perceptions of a quick U.S. victory in Afghanistan in 2002, in reality, the Taliban largely declined to fight.
In many ways, there was no real interregnum between the fall of the regime and the insurgency. The West’s earliest attempts to talk to the Taliban occurred in 2003, a sign that the West viewed the Taliban as a force that had not been defeated and was capable of staging a comeback. In the early days, the West’s strategy was to eliminate the Taliban as a fighting force, but they were never successful, due to adverse geography, the lack of forces and the shifting of focus to Iraq in 2003. More importantly, the fight to control the Pashtun areas turned into a fight to prevent a resurgent Taliban. The U.S. focus on the insurgency in Iraq allowed the Taliban to galvanize and regroup, and by 2005, it was clear that they were rebounding. Since 2006, the Taliban insurgency has gained momentum to the point that U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus commented in April that foreign forces in Afghanistan are dealing with an “industrial strength” insurgency.
The Current Status of the Taliban
Despite their removal from power in Kabul, the Taliban continue to be the most powerful indigenous force in Afghanistan. Unlike the Afghan National Army or the Afghan National Police, which are entities built around the idea that Afghanistan can be centrally controlled (although the geography of Afghanistan severely limits the power of any governing body in Kabul to exert power beyond the capital). The Taliban have a much looser command structure that functions on regional and local levels. Various Taliban commanders have attempted to control the movement and call it their own, but the disjointedness of Taliban units means that each commander enjoys independence and ultimately controls his own men. The Afghan Taliban should also not be confused with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Pakistani Taliban. The TTP are an indigenous movement, and while they cooperate with the Afghan Taliban and share similar objectives, the two sets of groups are independent.
The closest the Taliban have to a leader is Omar, who has no coequal. He has recently issued orders in an attempt to consolidate the disparate forces in various regions. However, these orders are not always followed, largely because the malleable and semi-autonomous command structure allows the Taliban to be much more in tune with the structural realities of operating in Afghanistan than the Afghan forces created by the United States and ISAF (in addition to U.S. and ISAF forces themselves).
Though a loose command and control structure denies its enemies from targeting any central nerve center that would significantly disrupt the group’s existence, the nebulous structure of the Taliban also prevents them from being a single, coherent force with a single, coherent mission. The Taliban fighting force is far from uniform. Fighters range from young locals who are either fighting for ideological reasons or are forced by circumstances to fight with the Taliban, to hardened, well-trained veterans from the Soviet war in the 1980s, to foreigners who have come to Afghanistan to cut their teeth fighting Western forces and contribute their assistance to re-establishing the “Islamic” emirate. This also leads to variable objectives. On the most basic level, the desire to drive out foreign forces from the area and control it for themselves is a sentiment that appeals to every Taliban fighter and many Afghan civilians. The Taliban know that foreigners have never been able to impose an order on the country and it is only a matter of time before foreign forces will leave, which is when the Taliban — being the single-most organized militia — could have the opportunity to restore their lost “emirate.” For now, the presence of foreign fighters restricts their ability to administer self rule. This common sentiment is what keeps the Taliban somewhat united.
However, the Afghan national identity is easily trumped by subnational ones. While there is consensus for opposing foreign militaries, agreement becomes more tenuous when it comes to the presence of Afghan security forces. Tribal and ethnic identities tend to trump any national identity, meaning that the ethnic Baluchi in the south are unlikely to support the presence of an ethnic Pashtun military unit from Kabul in their home village. These tribal and ethnic splits explain why Afghan security forces are frequently targeted in attacks.
(click map to enlarge)
But Taliban forces across Afghanistan share one goal: removing foreign military presence. The Taliban have plenty of fighting experience outside of their opposition to the Soviets. Militants know that direct confrontation with foreign military forces typically ends poorly for the Taliban because, given enough time, foreign forces can muster superior firepower to destroy an enemy position. For this reason, the Taliban rely heavily on indirect fire and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which avoid putting Taliban fighters directly in harm’s way. When the Taliban fighters do confront military forces directly, it has generally (though not universally) been in hit-and-run ambushes (often supported by heavy machine guns and mortars) that seek to inflict damage through surprise, not overwhelming force.
Rough terrain and meager transportation infrastructure limit mobility in Afghanistan, which limits the routes that ground convoy traffic can choose from, especially in rugged, outlying areas where the Taliban enjoy more freedom to operate. This makes routes predictable and creates more choke points where IEDs can be placed, which have caused the most deaths for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
These tactics do not always inflict damage on foreign forces and are often unsuccessful, but their model is low-risk, cheap and very sustainable. Meanwhile, as Taliban forces inflict casualties against foreign forces, the overall campaign becomes harder to sustain for Western governments.
Additionally, suicide bombings and suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) are on the rise in areas like Kabul. However, various elements of the Taliban (as well as entities like foreign jihadists) have not proven to be able to use these tactics as effectively as Iraqi or Pakistani militants. This is because the Afghan Taliban have much more experience using guerrilla tactics, fighting as small, armed units, than using terrorist tactics such as VBIEDs and suicide bombings. VBIEDs are hardly indigenous to Afghanistan and did not become common until around 2005-2006, well after they had become common occurrences in Iraq. As militants migrated from different jihadist theaters and shared information, tactics spread to Afghanistan. There was also an effort by al Qaeda to impart their tactics onto the Taliban. But there is a learning curve for perfecting the construction and tactical expertise at deploying these weapons. While the Taliban have not been as proficient as some of their contemporaries, their capability could be improving.
It remains to be seen what kind of implications the collateral damage that these attacks cause will have on the popular perception of the movement. One clear implication of killing civilians is that it undermines local support for the Taliban, which is why Omar has sought to limit the use of suicide bombings as a modus operandi. (Afghans have traditionally abhorred suicide bombings.) But the continued employment of such tactics against Afghan and Western security forces can be expected.
But areas where the Taliban conduct attacks should not be confused with areas that the Taliban control. Attacks certainly indicate a Taliban presence, but the Taliban would not necessarily need to conduct sustained attacks in an area if they did not feel they were under threat. The issue of controlling territory is, in reality, much more complex. There have been many mainstream publications recently that attempt to calculate what percentage of Afghanistan is under Taliban “control” or where the Taliban have influence. But these terms are misleading and need to be properly defined to understand the reality of the insurgency and its grip on the country.
Western military forces and the Taliban have pursued different strategies to control territory in Afghanistan. Foreign forces have pursued the model of controlling the national capital and projecting power into the provinces. This means that Kabul is the main objective, with other major cities and provincial capitals being the secondary objective, followed third by district capitals and smaller towns. Foreign forces tend to hold urban areas because they are crucial to maintaining heavier logistical needs, and the supply chains that support them, and are deemed necessary to carry out a more centralized conception of national governance. Holding urban areas and roads allows them to expand further into the rural areas where, conversely, the Taliban derive their power.
The Taliban implement almost the exact opposite model. The Taliban employ decentralized control with a much lighter logistical footprint. The Taliban begin at the local level, in isolated villages and towns so that it can pressure district-level capitals. This scheme, which comes naturally to the Taliban, is much more in line with the underlying realities of Afghanistan.
Both sides have managed to prevent the other from gaining any real control over the country. By holding district and provincial capitals, foreign forces deny the Taliban formal control. By entrenching themselves in the countryside, the Taliban simply survive — and can afford to wait for their opportunity.
Click map to enlarge
Few areas of the country are secure for Taliban, foreign or Afghan forces — or civilians — indicating that no side has absolute control over territory. What STRATFOR wrote in 2007 still stands today: Control in Afghanistan essentially depends on who is standing where at any given time. The situation remains extremely fluid, largely because of mobility advantages on both sides. Taliban forces have mobility advantages over foreign forces due their self-sufficiency. Taliban conscripts do not rely on lengthy, tenuous supply chains that cross over politically and militarily hostile territory. They are local fighters who depend on family and friends for supplies and shelter or, when forced, use intimidation to take what they need from civilians. They can also easily blend into their surroundings. These abilities translate into superior tactical mobility.
An example of the control that the Taliban have on the ground is opium production. In poppy-producing (the flower used to make opium) areas of the south and west, locals rely on the Taliban for protecting, purchasing and moving their product to market. In these areas, the Taliban have not only physical leverage over civilians, but also economic, which helps strengthen allegiances. While opium production in Helmand, the province with the highest rate of poppy cultivation, dropped by one-third over the past year, poppy production continues to increase in other provinces such as Kandahar, Farah and especially Badghis province, where poppy production increased 93 percent and violent attacks have increased over the past year. This province — and the north/northwest of Afghanistan in general — is an area that STRATFOR certainly needs to watch as it has traditionally not been a Taliban stronghold.
Conversely, foreign forces and the Afghan forces modeled on them are bound by supply chain limitations — a weakness that the Taliban have targeted in the past year. This reality constrains their ability to be flexible and spontaneous, resulting in predictable troop movements and requires the reliance on stationary bases, which make for easier targeting on the part of the Taliban.
However, what U.S. and ISAF forces have that the Taliban do not is air superiority. Foreign forces have been able to deny the Taliban sanctuaries by using air surveillance and air strikes that can neutralize large contingents of Taliban fighters and commanders without putting U.S. and ISAF forces in harm’s way. Air superiority gives foreign forces an advantage over the Taliban’s superior ground mobility and denies the Taliban’s complete control over any territory. However, air superiority does not guarantee control over any specific territory, as ground control is required to administer territory through organized government. This arrangement creates concentric circles of influence: The Taliban may patrol one stretch of land one day, but U.S. forces will patrol the next. Similarly, village allegiances shift constantly as they try to avoid being perceived by foreign forces as harboring Taliban lest they are the target of an airstrike, yet also maintain cordial relations with the local Taliban to avoid harsh reprisal.
Additionally, foreign forces are able to use air power to overcome some of the limitations of the supply chain vulnerabilities by relying on helicopter transport for shuttling supplies and deploying troops. Helicopters greatly reduce reliance on ground transport and convoys, but are in short supply and, in an environment where counter-tactics develop as quickly as tactics, they have their own vulnerabilities.
The Realities That Remain
Just as foreign and Afghan forces struggle to outright control territory, so do the Taliban. Even during the days of the Islamic Emirate, when the Taliban were at their peak, considerable swaths of territory in the north eluded their control. The fact remains that Afghanistan’s geography and ethnic/tribal makeup ensure that any power seeking to control Afghanistan will face a serious struggle. With flat, unprotected borderlands (where the bulk of the population resides) and a mountainous center, Afghanistan is both highly susceptible to foreign interference (it has so many neighbors who are able to easily project power into it, yet are unable and unwilling to rule it outright) and is governed poorly from any centralized location.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Verbal Judo
on: September 29, 2009, 01:33:06 PM
7 Things Cops Should Never Say To Anyone
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By Dr. George Thompson
7. "HEY YOU! COME HERE!"
Consider, you are on patrol and you see someone suspicious you want to talk
with, so you most naturally say, "Hey you! Come here!" Verbal Judo teaches
that "natural language is disastrous!" and this provides a wonderful
example. You have just warned the subject that he is in trouble. "Come here"
means to you, "Over here, you are under my authority." But to the subject it
means, "Go away-quickly!" The words are not tactical for they have provided
a warning and possibly precipitated a chase that would not have been
necessary had you, instead, walked casually in his direction and once close
said, "Excuse me. Could I chat with momentarily?" Notice this question is
polite, professional, and calm.
Also notice, you have gotten in close, in his "space" though not his "face,"
and now you are too close for him to back off, giving you a ration of verbal
trouble, as could have easily been the case with the "Hey you! Come here!"
The ancient samurai knew never to let an opponent pick the place of battle
for then the sun would always be in your eyes! "Come here" is loose, lazy,
and ineffective language. Easy, but wrong. Tactically, "May I chat with you"
is far better, for not only have you picked the place to talk, but anything
the subject says, other than yes or no-the question you asked-provides you
with intelligence regarding his emotional and/or mental state. Let him start
any 'dance' of resistance.
Point: Polite civility can be a weapon of immense power!
6. "CALM DOWN!"
Consider this verbal blunder. You approach some angry folks and you most
naturally say, "Hey, calm down!" This command never works, so why do we
always use it? Because it flows naturally from our lips!
What's wrong with it? One, the phrase is a criticism of their behavior and
suggests that they have no legitimate right to be upset! Hence, rather than
reassuring them that things will improve, which should be your goal, you
have created a new problem! Not only is there the matter they were upset
about to begin with, but now they need to defend their reaction to you!
Double the trouble!
Better, put on a calming face and demeanor-in Verbal Judo we say, 'Chameleon
up'-look the person in the eye and say, gently, "It's going to be all right.
Talk to me. What's the matter?" The phrase "What's the matter?' softens the
person up to talk and calm down; where 'Calm down' hardens the resistance.
The choice is yours!
5. "I'M NOT GOING TO TELL YOU AGAIN!"
We teach in Verbal Judo that 'repetition is weakness on the streets!' and
you and I both know that this phrase is almost always a lie. You will say it
again, and possibly again and again!
Parents do it all the time with their kids, and street cops do it with
resistant subjects, all the time! The phrase is, of course, a threat, and
voicing it leaves you only one viable option-action! If you are not prepared
to act, or cannot at the time, you lose credibility, and with the loss of
creditability comes the loss of power and safety!
Even if you are prepared to act, you have warned the subject that you are
about to do so and forewarned is forearmed! Another tactical blunder! Like
the rattlesnake you have made noise, and noise can get you hurt or killed.
Better to be more like the cobra and strike when least suspected!
If you want to stress the seriousness of your words, say something like,
'Listen, it's important that you get this point, so pay close attention to
what I'm about to tell you.'
If you have used Verbal Judo's Five Steps of Persuasion you know that we act
after asking our "nicest, most polite question,"
"Sir, is there anything I could say that would get you to do A, B and C? I'd
like to think so?"
If the answer is NO, we act while the subject is still talking! We do not
telegraph our actions nor threaten people, but we do act when verbal
4. "BE MORE REASONABLE!"
Telling people "be more reasonable" has many of the same problems as "Calm
Down!" Everyone thinks h/she is plenty reasonable given the present
circumstances! I never have had anyone run up to me and say, "Hey, I know I'm
stupid and wrong, but here's what I think!" although I have been confronted
by stupid and wrong people! You only invite conflict when you tell people to
"be more reasonable!"
Instead, make people more reasonable by the way in which you handle them,
tactically! Use the language of reassurance-"Let me see if I understand your
position," and then paraphrase-another VJ tactic!-back to them their
meaning, as you see it, in your words! Using your words will calm them and
make them more reasonable because your words will (or better be!) more
professional and less emotional.
This approach absorbs the other's tension and makes him feel your support.
Now you can help them think more logically and less destructively, without
making the insulting charge implied in your statement, "Be more reasonable!"
Again, tactics over natural reaction!
3. "BECAUSE THOSE ARE THE RULES" (or "THAT'S THE LAW!")
If ever there was a phrase that irritates people and makes you look weak,
this is it!
If you are enforcing rules/laws that exist for good reason, don't be afraid
to explain that! Your audience may not agree with or like it, but at least
they have been honored with an explanation. Note, a true sign of REspect is
to tell people why, and telling people why generates voluntary compliance.
Indeed, we know that at least 70% of resistant or difficult people will do
what you want them to do if you will just tell them why!
When you tell people why, you establish a ground to stand on, and one for
them as well! Your declaration of why defines the limits of the issue at
hand, defines your real authority, but also gives the other good reason for
complying, not just because you said so! Tactically, telling people why gets
your ego out of it and put in its place a solid, professional reason for
Even at home, if all you can do is repeat, "those are the rules," you sound
and look weak because you apparently cannot support your order/request with
logic or good reason. Indeed, if you can put rules or policies into context
and explain how the rules or policies are good for everyone, you not only
help people understand, you help them save face. Hence, you are much more
likely to generate voluntary compliance, which is your goal!
2. "WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM?"
This snotty, useless phrase turns the problem back on the person needing
assistance. It signals this is a "you-versus-me" battle rather than an "us"
discussion. The typical reaction is, "It's not my problem. You're the
The problem with the word problem is that it makes people feel deficient or
even helpless. It can even transport people back to grade school where they
felt misunderstood and underrated. Nobody likes to admit h/she has a
problem. That's a weakness! When asked, "what's your problem?" the other
already feels a failure. So the immediate natural reaction is, "I don't have
one, you do!" which is a reaction that now hides a real need for help.
Substitute tactical phrases designed to soften and open someone up, like
"What's the matter?", "How can I help?", or "I can see you're upset, let me
suggest . . . ."
Remember, as an officer of peace, it is your business to find ways to gather
good intel and to help those in need, not to pass judgments.
1. "WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO ABOUT IT?"
A great cop-out (no pun.)! This pseudo-question, always accompanied by
sarcasm, is clearly an evasion of responsibility and a clear sign of a lack
of creativity! The phrase really reveals the speaker's exasperation and lack
of knowledge. Often heard from untrained sales clerks and young officers
tasked with figuring out how to help someone when the rules are not clear.
When you say, "What do you want me to do about it?" you can count on two
problems: the one you started with and the one you just created by appearing
to duck responsibility.
Instead, tactically offer to help sort out the problem and work toward a
solution. If it truly is not in your area of responsibility, point the
subject to the right department or persons that might be able to solve the
If you are unable or unqualified to assist and you haven't a clue as to how
to help the person, apologize. Such an apology almost always gains you an
ally, one you may need at same later date. Beat cops need to remember it is
important to "develop a pair of eyes" (contacts) every time they interact
with the public. Had the officer said to the complainant, for example, "I'm
sorry, I really do not know what to recommend, but I wish I did, I'd like to
help you," and coupled that statement with a concerned tone of voice and a
face of concern, he would have gone a long way toward making that person
more malleable and compliant for the police later down the road.
Remember, insult strengthens resistance and shuts the eyes. Civility weakens
resistance and opens the eyes!
It's tactical to be nice!
Dr. George J. Thompson is the President and Founder of the Verbal Judo
Institute, a tactical training and management firm now based in Auburn, NY.
For full details on Dr. Thompson's work and training, please visit the
Verbal Judo Web Site.http://www.verbaljudo.com/
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Estudio: Doble Matanza en DF metro
on: September 29, 2009, 11:17:27 AM
"En ocasiones es difícil realizar una crítica sobre el hombre que se lanzo sobre el criminal del metro. Algunos pudieran calificarlo de heroe miestras que otros pensarian que fue un acto idiota el arriesgarse al tratar de detener al asesino... en fin ¿Cómo jusgar un acto de este tipo?"
En ingles hay un dicho "We are warriors. Death can come for us any time." La primera cosa que debe hacer un guerrero es escribir formalmente y legalmente su testamento.
Ese hombre vio algien matando a una policia. En un momento asi, opino yo que uno actue segun su naturaleza. Ese hombre fue guerrero a asi' actuo. Aunque no critico a los que no hicieron nada, este hombre tiene mi respeto. Espero que hubiera muchos donativos a su familia.
Y si me permiten un comentario politico: Si se respetara el derecho de la gente defenderse, la gente tendria el derecho de armarse. Si el heroe tuviera su propia pistola posbilemente estariamos leyendo noticias felizes.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Washington: Conquer or Die, 1776; Paine 1776
on: September 29, 2009, 08:37:13 AM
We have therefore to resolve to conquer or die: Our won Country's Honor, all call upon us for vigorous and manly exertion, and if we now shamefully fail, we shall become infamous to the whole world. Let us therefore rely upon the goodness of the Cause, and the aid of the supreme Being, in whose hands Victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble Actions." --George Washington, General Orders, 1776
"I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death." --Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, No. 1, 1776
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Two Canadians shot down in Pto. Vallarta.
on: September 29, 2009, 07:27:28 AM
2 Men Killed Execution-Style at Mexican Beach Resort
Monday , September 28, 2009
PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico —
Two Canadian men were shot to death in execution-style killing outside an apartment building in the Mexican resort of Puerto Vallarta, authorities said Monday.
Witnesses told police that a gunman approached Gordon Douglas Kendall and Jeffrey Ronald Ivans outside the building they were staying in and shot Kendall, according to Jalisco state prosecutor Guillermo Diaz.
The gunman then chased Ivans to the pool area and shot him. Witnesses said two other gunmen arrived minutes later and repeatedly shot the dead or dying Canadians, Diaz said. The men fled and no arrests have been made.
Diaz said Ivans was carrying a handgun, though he apparently was not able to use it before he was shot. It is unusual for people in Mexico, particularly foreigners, to carry handguns. It was not clear if Ivans had a permit.
Rest of article: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,...est=latestnews
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Serious Strat: BO's move
on: September 28, 2009, 06:04:16 PM
Obama's Move: Iran and Afghanistan
September 28, 2009
by George Friedman
During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, now-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said that like all U.S. presidents, Barack Obama would face a foreign policy test early in his presidency if elected. That test is now here.
His test comprises two apparently distinct challenges, one in Afghanistan and one in Iran. While different problems, they have three elements in common. First, they involve the question of his administration’s overarching strategy in the Islamic world. Second, the problems are approaching decision points (and making no decision represents a decision here). And third, they are playing out very differently than Obama expected during the 2008 campaign.
During the campaign, Obama portrayed the Iraq war as a massive mistake diverting the United States from Afghanistan, the true center of the “war on terror.” He accordingly promised to shift the focus away from Iraq and back to Afghanistan. Obama’s views on Iran were more amorphous. He supported the doctrine that Iran should not be permitted to obtain nuclear weapons, while at the same time asserted that engaging Iran was both possible and desirable. Embedded in the famous argument over whether offering talks without preconditions was appropriate (something now-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attacked him for during the Democratic primary) was the idea that the problem with Iran stemmed from Washington’s refusal to engage in talks with Tehran.
We are never impressed with campaign positions, or with the failure of the victorious candidate to live up to them. That’s the way American politics work. But in this case, these promises have created a dual crisis that Obama must make decisions about now.
Back in April, in the midst of the financial crisis, Obama reached an agreement at the G-8 meeting that the Iranians would have until Sept. 24 and the G-20 meeting to engage in meaningful talks with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany (P-5+1) or face intensely increased sanctions. His administration was quite new at the time, so the amount of thought behind this remains unclear. On one level, the financial crisis was so intense and September so far away that Obama and his team probably saw this as a means to delay a secondary matter while more important fires were flaring up.
But there was more operating than that. Obama intended to try to bridge the gap between the Islamic world and the United States between April and September. In his speech to the Islamic world from Cairo, he planned to show a desire not only to find common ground, but also to acknowledge shortcomings in U.S. policy in the region. With the appointment of special envoys George Mitchell (for Israel and the Palestinian territories) and Richard Holbrooke (for Pakistan and Afghanistan), Obama sought to build on his opening to the Islamic world with intense diplomatic activity designed to reshape regional relationships.
It can be argued that the Islamic masses responded positively to Obama’s opening — it has been asserted to be so and we will accept this — but the diplomatic mission did not solve the core problem. Mitchell could not get the Israelis to move on the settlement issue, and while Holbrooke appears to have made some headway on increasing Pakistan’s aggressiveness toward the Taliban, no fundamental shift has occurred in the Afghan war.
Most important, no major shift has occurred in Iran’s attitude toward the United States and the P-5+1 negotiating group. In spite of Obama’s Persian New Year address to Iran, the Iranians did not change their attitude toward the United States. The unrest following Iran’s contested June presidential election actually hardened the Iranian position. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remained president with the support of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, while the so-called moderates seemed powerless to influence their position. Perceptions that the West supported the demonstrations have strengthened Ahmadinejad’s hand further, allowing him to paint his critics as pro-Western and himself as an Iranian nationalist.
But with September drawing to a close, talks have still not begun. Instead, they will begin Oct. 1. And last week, the Iranians chose to announce that not only will they continue work on their nuclear program (which they claim is not for military purposes), they have a second, hardened uranium enrichment facility near Qom. After that announcement, Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy held a press conference saying they have known about the tunnel for several months, and warned of stern consequences.
This, of course, raises the question of what consequences. Obama has three choices in this regard.
First, he can impose crippling sanctions against Iran. But that is possible only if the Russians cooperate. Moscow has the rolling stock and reserves to supply all of Iran’s fuel needs if it so chooses, and Beijing can also remedy any Iranian fuel shortages. Both Russia and China have said they don’t want sanctions; without them on board, sanctions are meaningless.
Second, Obama can take military action against Iran, something easier politically and diplomatically for the United States to do itself rather than rely on Israel. By itself, Israel cannot achieve air superiority, suppress air defenses, attack the necessary number of sites and attempt to neutralize Iranian mine-laying and anti-ship capability all along the Persian Gulf. Moreover, if Israel struck on its own and Iran responded by mining the Strait of Hormuz, the United States would be drawn into at least a naval war with Iran — and probably would have to complete the Israeli airstrikes, too.
And third, Obama could choose to do nothing (or engage in sanctions that would be the equivalent of doing nothing). Washington could see future Iranian nuclear weapons as an acceptable risk. But the Israelis don’t, meaning they would likely trigger the second scenario. It is possible that the United States could try to compel Israel not to strike — though it’s not clear whether Israel would comply — something that would leave Obama publicly accepting Iran’s nuclear program.
And this, of course, would jeopardize Obama’s credibility. It is possible for the French or Germans to waffle on this issue; no one is looking to them for leadership. But for Obama simply to acquiesce to Iranian nuclear weapons, especially at this point, would have significant diplomatic and domestic political ramifications. Simply put, Obama would look weak — and that, of course, is why the Iranians announced the second nuclear site. They read Obama as weak, and they want to demonstrate their own resolve. That way, if the Russians were thinking of cooperating with the United States on sanctions, Moscow would be seen as backing the weak player against the strong one. The third option, doing nothing, therefore actually represents a significant action.
In a way, the same issue is at stake in Afghanistan. Having labeled Afghanistan as critical — indeed, having campaigned on the platform that the Bush administration was fighting the wrong war — it would be difficult for Obama to back down in Afghanistan. At the same time, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has reported that without a new strategy and a substantial increase in troop numbers, failure in Afghanistan is likely.
The number of troops being discussed, 30,000-40,000, would bring total U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan to just above the number of troops the Soviet Union deployed there in its war (just under 120,000) — a war that ended in failure. The new strategy being advocated would be one in which the focus would not be on the defeat of the Taliban by force of arms, but the creation of havens for the Afghan people and protecting those havens from the Taliban.
A move to the defensive when time is on your side is not an unreasonable strategy. But it is not clear that time is on Western forces’ side. Increased offensives are not weakening the Taliban. But halting attacks and assuming that the Taliban will oblige the West by moving to the offensive, thereby opening itself to air and artillery strikes, probably is not going to happen. And while assuming that the country will effectively rise against the Taliban out of the protected zones the United States has created is interesting, it does not strike us as likely. The Taliban is fighting the long war because it has nowhere else to go. Its ability to maintain military and political cohesion following the 2001 invasion has been remarkable. And betting that the Pakistanis will be effective enough to break the Taliban’s supply lines is hardly the most prudent bet.
In short, Obama’s commander on the ground has told him the current Afghan strategy is failing. He has said that unless that strategy changes, more troops won’t help, and that a change of strategy will require substantially more troops. But when we look at the proposed strategy and the force levels, it is far from obvious that even that level of commitment will stand a chance of achieving meaningful results quickly enough before the forces of Washington’s NATO allies begin to withdraw and U.S. domestic resolve erodes further.
Obama has three choices in Afghanistan. He can continue to current strategy and force level, hoping to prolong failure long enough for some undefined force to intervene. He can follow McChrystal’s advice and bet on the new strategy. Or he can withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Once again, doing nothing — the first option — is doing something quite significant.
The Two Challenges Come Together
The two crises intermingle in this way: Every president is tested in foreign policy, sometimes by design and sometimes by circumstance. Frequently, this happens at the beginning of his term as a result of some problem left by his predecessor, a strategy adopted in the campaign or a deliberate action by an antagonist. How this happens isn’t important. What is important is that Obama’s test is here. Obama at least publicly approached the presidency as if many of the problems the United States faced were due to misunderstandings about or the thoughtlessness of the United States. Whether this was correct is less important than that it left Obama appearing eager to accommodate his adversaries rather than confront them.
No one has a clear idea of Obama’s threshold for action.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban takes the view that the British and Russians left, and that the Americans will leave, too. We strongly doubt that the force level proposed by McChrystal will be enough to change their minds. Moreover, U.S. forces are limited, with many still engaged in Iraq. In any case, it isn’t clear what force level would suffice to force the Taliban to negotiate or capitulate — and we strongly doubt that there is a level practical to contemplate.
In Iran, Ahmadinejad clearly perceives that challenging Obama is low-risk and high reward. If he can finally demonstrate that the United States is unwilling to take military action regardless of provocations, his own domestic situation improves dramatically, his relationship with the Russians deepens, and most important, his regional influence — and menace — surges. If Obama accepts Iranian nukes without serious sanctions or military actions, the American position in the Islamic world will decline dramatically. The Arab states in the region rely on the United States to protect them from Iran, so U.S. acquiescence in the face of Iranian nuclear weapons would reshape U.S. relations in the region far more than a hundred Cairo speeches.
There are four permutations Obama might choose in response to the dual crisis. He could attack Iran and increase forces in Afghanistan, but he might well wind up stuck in a long-term war in Afghanistan. He could avoid that long-term war by withdrawing from Afghanistan and also ignore Iran’s program, but that would leave many regimes reliant on the United States for defense against Iran in the lurch. He could increase forces in Afghanistan and ignore Iran — probably yielding the worst of all possible outcomes, namely, a long-term Afghan war and an Iran with a nuclear program if not nuclear weapons.
On pure logic, history or politics aside, the best course is to strike Iran and withdraw from Afghanistan. That would demonstrate will in the face of a significant challenge while perhaps reshaping Iran and certainly avoiding a drawn-out war in Afghanistan. Of course, it is easy for those who lack power and responsibility — and the need to govern — to provide logical choices. But the forces closing in on Obama are substantial, and there are many competing considerations in play.
Presidents eventually arrive at the point where something must be done, and where doing nothing is very much doing something. At this point, decisions can no longer be postponed, and each choice involves significant risk. Obama has reached that point, and significantly, in his case, he faces a double choice. And any decision he makes will reverberate.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Cluess babble from Pravda on the Hudson
on: September 28, 2009, 12:16:10 PM
By CLIFFORD J. LEVY
Published: September 27, 2009
MOSCOW — The Kremlin has long responded to proposals for tougher sanctions against Iran with arms folded and a scowl. Last week, that attitude began softening, bringing the Obama administration closer to a diplomatic coup in its efforts to contain the Iranian nuclear program.
President Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia on Friday at the Group of 20 meeting in Pittsburgh.
But the relatively conciliatory statements by Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, present an opening to the administration that could turn out to yield little. Russia, a neighbor of Iran, is far more intertwined with it geopolitically than any other world power, and has more concerns about upsetting relations.
Russia is also reluctant to mass the might of the United Nations Security Council against a single country, especially at Washington’s behest. That in part explains why Russia has historically sought to dilute sanctions, as it did in previous rounds against Iran.
Moreover, the Kremlin might go slowly because it senses that in a world where it has less influence than it did during Soviet times, it can use its veto power in the Security Council to ensure attention and respect. If Russia were to accede right away to calls for a crackdown, it would risk becoming just another country lining up behind the United States. The Kremlin’s pride would almost certainly not allow that.
Already, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, appears to be positioning Russia to back away from the supportive stance suggested by Mr. Medvedev’s comments.
Asked about the announcement on Friday by the United States, Britain and France that Iran had failed to disclose a secret uranium enrichment plant, Mr. Lavrov said it was not evident that Iran had done anything wrong. He said it was premature to assert that new sanctions were necessary.
“As I understand it, there is no clarity regarding the legal issues,” Mr. Lavrov said.
He also chided the Western powers for not telling Russia earlier that their intelligence agencies had discovered the Iranian enrichment plant.
Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s paramount leader, who tends to be more hawkish than Mr. Medvedev toward the United States, in recent days has not echoed Mr. Medvedev’s views on sanctions.
Still, Moscow’s overall outlook toward the United States has unquestionably warmed in recent months, largely because of President Obama’s drive to “reset” relations, and that could ultimately be pivotal.
Mr. Obama’s decision this month to cancel an antimissile system in Eastern Europe proposed by the Bush administration has achieved a particularly galvanizing effect. The Kremlin had deemed the antimissile system a direct threat to Russia, though the United States had said it was intended to protect against attacks from countries like Iran.
Mr. Medvedev regularly expressed his appreciation for Mr. Obama last week, drawing a contrast with the tensions between Moscow and Washington in the later Bush years. Obama administration officials cited Mr. Medvedev’s remarks as proof that their attempt to engage Moscow was paying off, and could lead to action against Iran.
“We do have various doubts about what Iran is doing,” Mr. Medvedev said last week. “If all possibilities for influencing the situation have been exhausted, we could consider international sanctions.”
“Sometimes, there is no other option,” he added.
Russia has said that it does not want Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, but it has also articulated misgivings about Western assertions of Iranian nuclear advances. While Russia is not one of Iran’s largest trading partners, it does sell military hardware to Iran and is building a civilian nuclear power plant there.
What is clear is that Russia considers sanctions as not solely an Iranian issue, but one of several that revolve around its dealings with Washington. It is negotiating a treaty to reduce the size of strategic nuclear forces, and remains alarmed by the possible expansion of NATO into former Soviet republics like Ukraine and Georgia.
If those issues are handled to the Kremlin’s liking, then it will be more apt to agree to stiff sanctions.
“For Russia, Iran is a very good bargaining chip,” said Vladimir Sotnikov, a senior research associate at the Center for International Security in Moscow. “And that is why, for now, I don’t think that Russia is going to be ready to wholly support major new sanctions.”
The dynamic is complicated by China, another sanctions opponent with a Security Council veto. The Kremlin can publicly show more leeway toward sanctions — in essence, offering gratitude to Mr. Obama for canceling the antimissile system in Eastern Europe — while knowing that China may continue standing in their way.
China trades heavily with Iran, and its skeptical comments on Friday after the announcement about the new enrichment plant indicated how reluctant it may be on sanctions.
At the same time, though, if China senses that Russia is more amenable, the Chinese may feel that they have to shift because they do not want to be isolated.
And Mr. Medvedev’s criticism of Iran last week has put more pressure on its leadership before nuclear talks on Thursday in Geneva between Iran and the United States and five other powers, including Russia.
Even so, in interviews over the weekend, experts in Moscow were somewhat unconvinced that the Kremlin would back forceful steps against Iran, though they did not rule it out.
Vladimir Sazhin, a commentator at the state-run Voice of Russia radio and one of the nation’s leading Iran analysts, said it was important to understand that Russia considered Iran to be a vital ally on regional issues. After the disputed Iranian presidential election in June, in fact, Mr. Medvedev congratulated President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Both countries are on the Caspian Sea and have territory in the Caucasus Mountains. (The Soviet Union had a border with Iran, but Russia is now about 100 miles away, separated from Iran by another former Soviet republic, Azerbaijan.) Both Russia and Iran want to prevent NATO from setting up bases in the region.
Mr. Sazhin said Russia had been pleased that Iran had not questioned Russia’s actions in Chechnya, a Muslim region in the Caucasus where the federal authorities have fought two brutal civil wars to put down a separatist Muslim insurgency.
“The Kremlin’s politics come down to the fact that they do not want to inflame relations with Iran, because of Russia’s regional interests,” Mr. Sazhin said.
Mr. Sazhin said he would not be surprised if Mr. Medvedev continued to imply that he was open-minded toward sanctions, in large part because the Russian leadership realizes that China may not relent and Iran will find a way to prolong the dispute.
“The Kremlin can play a good game because it knows that nothing will probably come of it,” he said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Washington
on: September 28, 2009, 10:59:10 AM
"No country upon earth ever had it more in its power to attain these blessings than United America. Wondrously strange, then, and much to be regretted indeed would it be, were we to neglect the means and to depart from the road which Providence has pointed us to so plainly." --George Washington
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / China goes green?
on: September 27, 2009, 03:25:28 PM
The New Sputnik
THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: September 26, 2009
Most people would assume that 20 years from now when historians look back at 2008-09, they will conclude that the most important thing to happen in this period was the Great Recession. I’d hold off on that. If we can continue stumbling out of this economic crisis, I believe future historians may well conclude that the most important thing to happen in the last 18 months was that Red China decided to become Green China.
Yes, China’s leaders have decided to go green — out of necessity because too many of their people can’t breathe, can’t swim, can’t fish, can’t farm and can’t drink thanks to pollution from its coal- and oil-based manufacturing growth engine. And, therefore, unless China powers its development with cleaner energy systems, and more knowledge-intensive businesses without smokestacks, China will die of its own development.
What do we know about necessity? It is the mother of invention. And when China decides it has to go green out of necessity, watch out. You will not just be buying your toys from China. You will buy your next electric car, solar panels, batteries and energy-efficiency software from China.
I believe this Chinese decision to go green is the 21st-century equivalent of the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik — the world’s first Earth-orbiting satellite. That launch stunned us, convinced President Eisenhower that the U.S. was falling behind in missile technology and spurred America to make massive investments in science, education, infrastructure and networking — one eventual byproduct of which was the Internet.
Well, folks. Sputnik just went up again: China’s going clean-tech. The view of China in the U.S. Congress — that China is going to try to leapfrog us by out-polluting us — is out of date. It’s going to try to out-green us. Right now, China is focused on low-cost manufacturing of solar, wind and batteries and building the world’s biggest market for these products. It still badly lags U.S. innovation. But research will follow the market. America’s premier solar equipment maker, Applied Materials, is about to open the world’s largest privately funded solar research facility — in Xian, China.
“If they invest in 21st-century technologies and we invest in 20th-century technologies, they’ll win,” says David Sandalow, the assistant secretary of energy for policy. “If we both invest in 21st-century technologies, challenging each other, we all win.”
Unfortunately, we’re still not racing. It’s like Sputnik went up and we think it’s just a shooting star. Instead of a strategic response, too many of our politicians are still trapped in their own dumb-as-we-wanna-be bubble, where we’re always No. 1, and where the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, having sold its soul to the old coal and oil industries, uses its influence to prevent Congress from passing legislation to really spur renewables. Hat’s off to the courageous chairman of Pacific Gas and Electric, Peter Darbee, who last week announced that his huge California power company was quitting the chamber because of its “obstructionist tactics.” All shareholders in America should ask their C.E.O.’s why they still belong to the chamber.
China’s leaders, mostly engineers, wasted little time debating global warming. They know the Tibetan glaciers that feed their major rivers are melting. But they also know that even if climate change were a hoax, the demand for clean, renewable power is going to soar as we add an estimated 2.5 billion people to the planet by 2050, many of whom will want to live high-energy lifestyles. In that world, E.T. — or energy technology — will be as big as I.T., and China intends to be a big E.T. player.
“For the last three years, the U.S. has led the world in new wind generation,” said the ecologist Lester Brown, author of “Plan B 4.0.” “By the end of this year, China will bypass us on new wind generation so fast we won’t even see it go by.”
I met this week with Shi Zhengrong, the founder of Suntech, already the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels. Shi recalled how, shortly after he started his company in Wuxi, nearby Lake Tai, China’s third-largest freshwater lake, choked to death from pollution.
“After this disaster,” explained Shi, “the party secretary of Wuxi city came to me and said, ‘I want to support you to grow this solar business into a $15 billion industry, so then we can shut down as many polluting and energy consuming companies in the region as soon as possible.’ He is one of a group of young Chinese leaders, very innovative and very revolutionary, on this issue. Something has changed. China realized it has no capacity to absorb all this waste. We have to grow without pollution.”
Of course, China will continue to grow with cheap, dirty coal, to arrest over-eager environmentalists and to strip African forests for wood and minerals. Have no doubt about that. But have no doubt either that, without declaring it, China is embarking on a new, parallel path of clean power deployment and innovation. It is the Sputnik of our day. We ignore it at our peril.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / JCVD, WTF?
on: September 27, 2009, 12:57:54 PM
From: Too Old for Action, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,...8:b27966834:z0
Jean-Claude Van Damme, 49
At 49, Jean-Claude Van Damme doesn't put as many butts in seats as he used to. His 2008 release "JCVD" (that stands for Jean-Claude Van Damme for those of you on whom the subtlety of the title was lost) had a domestic gross of $470,691. But is this due to his inability to kick as high as he used to or the fact that audiences realized his movies just aren't that great? The "maturing" action star still appears to be in fighting shape. We hope so, for his sake at least. Not only is he costarring in 2010's "Universal Soldier: A New Beginning" with fellow faded actioner Dolph Lundgren, but he's also returning to the ring in real life in March 2010. He'll be going for five two-minute rounds against Thai Olympic boxing gold-medalist and muay thai fighter Somluck Kamsing.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A bit more info than you may want LOL
on: September 27, 2009, 10:45:08 AM
Abdullah Hassan Taleh al-Asiri has a big anus
AQAP: Paradigm Shifts and Lessons Learned
September 2, 2009
By Scott Stewart
On the evening of Aug. 28, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the Saudi Deputy Interior Minister — and the man in charge of the kingdom’s counterterrorism efforts — was receiving members of the public in connection with the celebration of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. As part of the Ramadan celebration, it is customary for members of the Saudi royal family to hold public gatherings where citizens can seek to settle disputes or offer Ramadan greetings.
One of the highlights of the Friday gathering was supposed to be the prince’s meeting with Abdullah Hassan Taleh al-Asiri, a Saudi man who was a wanted militant from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Al-Asiri had allegedly renounced terrorism and had requested to meet the prince in order to repent and then be accepted into the kingdom’s amnesty program. Such surrenders are not unprecedented — and they serve as great press events for the kingdom’s ideological battle against jihadists. Prince Mohammed, who is responsible for the Saudi rehabilitation program for militants, is a key figure in that ideological battle.
In February, a man who appeared with al-Asiri on Saudi Arabia’s list of most-wanted militants — former Guantanamo Bay inmate Mohammed al-Awfi — surrendered in Yemen and was transported to Saudi Arabia where he renounced terrorism and entered into the kingdom’s amnesty program. Al-Awfi, who had appeared in a January 2009 video issued by the newly created AQAP after the merger of the Saudi and Yemeni nodes of the global jihadist network, was a senior AQAP leader, and his renouncement was a major blow against AQAP.
But the al-Asiri case ended very differently from the al-Awfi case. Unlike al-Awfi, al-Asiri was not a genuine repentant — he was a human Trojan horse. After al-Asiri entered a small room to speak with Prince Mohammed, he activated a small improvised explosive device (IED) he had been carrying inside his anal cavity. The resulting explosion ripped al-Asiri to shreds but only lightly injured the shocked prince — the target of al-Asiri’s unsuccessful assassination attempt.
While the assassination proved unsuccessful, AQAP had been able to shift the operational paradigm in a manner that allowed them to achieve tactical surprise. The surprise was complete and the Saudis did not see the attack coming — the operation could have succeeded had it been better executed.
The kind of paradigm shift evident in this attack has far-reaching implications from a protective-intelligence standpoint, and security services will have to adapt in order to counter the new tactics employed. The attack also allows some important conclusions to be drawn about AQAP’s ability to operate inside Saudi Arabia.
Militants conducting terrorist attacks and the security services attempting to guard against such attacks have long engaged in a tactical game of cat and mouse. As militants adopt new tactics, security measures are then implemented to counter those tactics. The security changes then cause the militants to change in response and the cycle begins again. These changes can include using different weapons, employing weapons in a new way or changing the type of targets selected.
Sometimes, militants will implement a new tactic or series of tactics that is so revolutionary that it completely changes the framework of assumptions — or the paradigm — under which the security forces operate. Historically, al Qaeda and its jihadist progeny have proved to be very good at understanding the security paradigm and then developing tactics intended to exploit vulnerabilities in that paradigm in order to launch surprise attacks. For example:
•Prior to the 9/11 attacks, it was inconceivable that a large passenger aircraft would be used as a manually operated cruise missile. Hence, security screeners allowed box cutters to be carried onto aircraft, which were then used by the hijackers to take over the planes.
•The use of faux journalists to assassinate Ahmed Shah Masood with suicide IEDs hidden in their camera gear was also quite inventive.
•Had Richard Reid been able to light the fuse on his shoe bomb, we might still be wondering what happened to American Airlines Flight 63.
•The boat bomb employed against the USS Cole in October 2000 was another example of a paradigm shift that resulted in tactical surprise.
Once the element of tactical surprise is lost, however, the new tactics can be countered.
•When the crew and passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 learned what had happened to the other flights hijacked and flown to New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, they stormed the cockpit and stopped the hijackers from using their aircraft in an attack. Aircraft cockpit doors have also been hardened and other procedural measures have been put in place to make 9/11-style suicide hijackings harder to pull off.
•Following the Masood assassination, journalists have been given very close scrutiny before being allowed into the proximity of a VIP.
•The traveling public has felt the impact of the Reid shoe-bombing attempt by being forced to remove their shoes every time they pass through airport security. And the thwarted 2006 Heathrow plot has resulted in limits on the size of liquid containers travelers can take aboard aircraft.
•The U.S. Navy is now very careful to guard against small craft pulling up alongside its warships.
Let’s now take a look at the paradigm shift marked by the Prince Mohammed assassination attempt.
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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Attacking Iran?
on: September 27, 2009, 08:56:19 AM
To the many challenges discussed by this article I would add rocket attacks (there's tens of thosands of them) from Lebanon by Hezbollah.
By ANTHONY H. CORDESMAN
When the Israeli army’sthen-Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Halutz was asked in 2004 how far Israel would go to stop Iran's nuclear program, he replied: "2,000 kilometers," roughly the distance been the two countries.
Israel's political and military leaders have long made it clear that they are considering taking decisive military action if Iran continues to develop its nuclear program. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned at the United Nations this week that "the most urgent challenge facing this body is to prevent the tyrants of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons."
Reporting by the International Atomic Energy Agency and other sources has made it clear that whether or not Iran ties all of its efforts into a formal nuclear weapons program, it has acquired all of the elements necessary to make and deliver such weapons. Just Friday, Iran confirmed that it has been developing a second uranium-enrichment facility on a military base near Qom, doing little to dispel the long-standing concerns of Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the U.S. that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.
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.Iran has acquired North Korean and other nuclear weapons design data through sources like the sales network once led by the former head of Pakistan's nuclear program, A. Q. Khan. Iran has all of the technology and production and manufacturing capabilities needed for fission weapons. It has acquired the technology to make the explosives needed for a gun or implosion device, the triggering components, and the neutron initiator and reflectors. It has experimented with machine uranium and plutonium processing. It has put massive resources into a medium-range missile program that has the range payload to carry nuclear weapons and that makes no sense with conventional warheads. It has also worked on nuclear weapons designs for missile warheads. These capabilities are dispersed in many facilities in many cities and remote areas, and often into many buildings in each facility—each of which would have to be a target in an Israeli military strike.
It is far from certain that such action would be met with success. An Israeli strike on Iran would be far more challenging than the Israeli strike that destroyed Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981. An effective Israeli nuclear strike may not be possible, yet a regional nuclear arms race is a game that Iran can start, but cannot possibly win. Anyone who meets regularly with senior Israeli officials, officers and experts knows that Israel is considering military options, but considering them carefully and with an understanding that they pose serious problems and risks.
One of the fundamental problems dogging Israel, especially concerning short-ranged fighters and fighter-bombers, is distance. Iran's potential targets are between 950 and 1,400 miles from Israel, the far margin of the ranges Israeli fighters can reach, even with aerial refueling. Israel would be hard-pressed to destroy all of Iran's best-known targets. What's more, Iran has had years in which to build up covert facilities, disperse elements of its nuclear and missile programs, and develop options for recovering from such an attack.
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A sign reading “Atomic Power Plant” points the way to a nuclear power plant that was built in the Persian Gulf city of Bushehr, with Russian help.
.At best, such action would delay Iran's nuclear buildup. It is more likely to provoke the country into accelerating its plans. Either way, Israel would have to contend with the fact that it has consistently had a "red light" from both the Bush and Obama administrations opposing such strikes. Any strike that overflew Arab territory or attacked a fellow Islamic state would stir the ire of neighboring Arab states, as well as Russia, China and several European states.
This might not stop Israel. Hardly a week goes by without another warning from senior Israeli officials that a military strike is possible, and that Israel cannot tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran, even though no nation has indicated it would support such action. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to threaten Israel and to deny its right to exist. At the same time, President Barack Obama is clearly committed to pursuing diplomatic options, his new initiatives and a U.N. resolution on nuclear arms control and counterproliferation, and working with our European allies, China and Russia to impose sanctions as a substitute for the use of force.
BATTLE STATIONS: Israel has to carefully consider its options.
.Mr. Ahmadinejad keeps denying that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, and tries to defend Iran from both support for sanctions and any form of attack by saying that Iran will negotiate over its peaceful use of nuclear power. He offered some form of dialogue with the U.S. during his visit to the U.N. this week. While French President Nicolas Sarkozy denounced Iran's continued lack of response to the Security Council this week, and said its statements would "wipe a U.N. member state off the map," no nation has yet indicated it would support Israeli military action.
Most analyses of a possible Israeli attack focus on only three of Iran's most visible facilities: its centrifuge facilities at Natanz, its light water nuclear power reactor near Bushehr, and a heavy water reactor at Arak it could use to produce plutonium. They are all some 950 to 1,000 miles from Israel. Each of these three targets differs sharply in terms of the near-term risk it poses to Israel and its vulnerability.
The Arak facility is partially sheltered, but it does not yet have a reactor vessel and evidently will not have one until 2011. Arak will not pose a tangible threat for at least several years. The key problem Israel would face is that it would virtually have to strike it as part of any strike on the other targets, because it cannot risk waiting and being unable to carry out another set of strikes for political reasons. It also could then face an Iran with much better air defenses, much better long-range missile forces, and at least some uranium weapons.
Bushehr is a nuclear power reactor along Iran's southwestern coast in the Gulf. It is not yet operational, although it may be fueled late this year. It would take some time before it could be used to produce plutonium, and any Iranian effort to use its fuel rods for such a purpose would be easy to detect and lead Iran into an immediate political confrontation with the United Nations and other states. Bushehr also is being built and fueled by Russia—which so far has been anything but supportive of an Israeli strike and which might react to any attack by making major new arms shipments to Iran.
The centrifuge facility at Natanz is a different story. It is underground and deeply sheltered, and is defended by modern short-range Russian TOR-M surface-to-air missiles. It also, however, is the most important target Israel can fully characterize. Both Israeli and outside experts estimate that it will produce enough low enriched uranium for Iran to be able to be used in building two fission nuclear weapons by some point in 2010—although such material would have to be enriched far more to provide weapons-grade U-235.
Israel has fighters, refueling tankers and precision-guided air-to-ground weapons to strike at all of these targets—even if it flies the long-distance routes needed to avoid the most critical air defenses in neighboring Arab states. It is also far from clear that any Arab air force would risk engaging Israeli fighters. Syria, after all, did not attempt to engage Israeli fighters when they attacked the reactor being built in Syria.
In August 2003, the Israeli Air Force demonstrated the strategic capability to strike far-off targets such as Iran by flying three F-15 jets to Poland, 1,600 nautical miles away. Israel can launch and refuel two to three full squadrons of combat aircraft for a single set of strikes against Iran, and provide suitable refueling. Israel could also provide fighter escorts and has considerable electronic-warfare capability to suppress Iran's aging air defenses. It might take losses to Iran's fighters and surface-to-air missiles, but such losses would probably be limited.
Israel would, however, still face two critical problems. The first would be whether it can destroy a hardened underground facility like Natanz. The second is that a truly successful strike might have to hit far more targets over a much larger area than the three best-known sites. Iran has had years to build up covert and dispersed facilities, and is known to have dozens of other facilities associated with some aspect of its nuclear programs. Moreover, Israel would have to successfully strike at dozens of additional targets to do substantial damage to another key Iranian threat: its long-range missiles.
Experts sharply disagree as to whether the Israeli air force could do more than limited damage to the key Iranian facility at Natanz. Some feel it is too deeply underground and too hardened for Israel to have much impact. Others believe that it is more vulnerable than conventional wisdom has it, and Israel could use weapons like the GBU-28 earth-penetrating bombs it has received from the U.S. or its own penetrators, which may include a nuclear-armed variant, to permanently collapse the underground chambers.
No one knows what specialized weapons Israel may have developed on its own, but Israeli intelligence has probably given Israel good access to U.S., European, and Russian designs for more advanced weapons than the GBU-28. Therefore, the odds are that Israel can have a serious impact on Iran's three most visible nuclear targets and possibly delay Iran's efforts for several years.
The story is very different, however, when it comes to destroying the full range of Iranian capabilities. There are no meaningful unclassified estimates of Iran's total mix of nuclear facilities, but known unclassified research, reactor, and centrifuge facilities number in the dozens. It became clear just this week that Iran managed to conceal the fact it was building a second underground facility for uranium enrichment near Qom, 100 miles southwest of Tehran, and that was designed to hold 3,000 centrifuges. Iran is developing at least four variants of its centrifuges, and the more recent designs have far more capacity than most of the ones installed at Natanz.
This makes it easier to conceal chains of centrifuges in a number of small, dispersed facilities and move material from one facility to another. Iran's known centrifuge production facilities are scattered over large areas of Iran, and at least some are in Mashad in the far northeast of the country—far harder to reach than Arak, Bushehr and Natanz.
Many of Iran's known facilities present the added problem that they are located among civilian facilities and peaceful nuclear-research activities—although Israel's precision-strike capabilities may well be good enough to allow it to limit damage to nearby civilian facilities.
It is not clear that Israel can win this kind of "shell game." It is doubtful that even the U.S. knows all the potential targets, and even more doubtful that any outside power can know what each detected Iranian facility currently does—and the extent to which each can hold dispersed centrifuge facilities that Iran could use instead of Natanz to produce weapons-grade uranium. As for the other elements of Iran's nuclear programs, it has scattered throughout the country the technical and industrial facilities it could use to make the rest of fission nuclear weapons. The facilities can now be in too many places for an Israeli strike to destroy Iran's capabilities.
Israel also faces limits on its military capabilities. Strong as Israeli forces are, they lack the scale, range and other capabilities to carry out the kind of massive strike the U.S. could launch. Israel does not have the density and quality of intelligence assets necessary to reliably assess the damage done to a wide range of small and disperse targets and to detect new Iranian efforts.
Israel has enough strike-attack aircraft and fighters in inventory to carry out a series of restrikes if Iran persisted in rebuilding, but it could not refuel a large-enough force, or provide enough intelligence and electronic warfare capabilities, to keep striking Iran at anything like the necessary scale. Moreover, Israel does not have enough forces to carry out a series of restrikes if Iran persisted in creating and rebuilding new facilities, and Arab states could not repeatedly standby and let Israel penetrate their air space. Israel might also have to deal with a Russia that would be far more willing to sell Iran advanced fighters and surface-to-air missiles if Israel attacked the Russian-built reactor at Bushehr.
These problems are why a number of senior Israeli intelligence experts and military officers feel that Israel should not strike Iran, although few would recommend that Israel avoid using the threat of such strikes to help U.S. and other diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to halt. For example, retired Brigadier General Shlomo Brom advocates, like a number of other Israeli experts, reliance on deterrence and Israel's steadily improving missile defenses.
Any Israeli attack on an Iranian nuclear target would be a very complex operation in which a relatively large number of attack aircraft and support aircraft would participate. The conclusion is that Israel could attack only a few Iranian targets—not as part of a sustainable operation over time, but as a one-time surprise operation.
The alternatives, however, are not good for Israel, the U.S., Iran's neighbors or Arab neighbors. Of course being attacked is not good for Iran. Israel could still strike, if only to try to buy a few added years of time. Iranian persistence in developing nuclear weapons could push the U.S. into launching its own strike on Iran—although either an Israeli or U.S. strike might be used by Iran's hardliners to justify an all-out nuclear arms race. Further, it is far from clear that friendly Arab Gulf states would allow the U.S. to use bases on their soil for the kind of massive strike and follow-on restrikes that the U.S. would need to suppress Iran's efforts on a lasting basis.
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Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility is seen behind Imam Ali mosque just outside the city of Isfahan. This picture was taken on April 9, Iran’s recently created National Nuclear Technology Day.
.The broader problem for Iran, however, is that Israel will not wait passively as Iran develops a nuclear capability. Like several Arab states, Israel already is developing better missile and air defenses, and more-advanced forms of its Arrow ballistic missile defenses. There are reports that Israel is increasing the range-payload of its nuclear-armed missiles and is developing sea-based nuclear-armed cruise missiles for its submarines.
While Iran is larger than Israel, its population centers are so vulnerable to Israeli thermonuclear weapons that Israel already is a major "existential" threat to Iran. Moreover, provoking its Arab neighbors and Turkey into developing their nuclear capabilities, or the U.S. into offering them a nuclear umbrella targeted on Iran, could create additional threats, as well as make Iran's neighbors even more dependent on the U.S. for their security. Iran's search for nuclear-armed missiles may well unite its neighbors against it as well as create a major new nuclear threat to its survival.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Volcker says
on: September 26, 2009, 03:02:00 PM
President Obama's economic advisers are struggling to sell their financial reform plan to . . . an Obama economic adviser. Paul Volcker, the Democrat and former Federal Reserve chairman who worked with President Reagan to slay inflation in the 1980s, now leads President Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board. He warned in Congressional testimony Thursday that the pending Treasury plan could lead to more taxpayer bailouts by designating even nonbanks as "systemically important."
"The clear implication of such designation whether officially acknowledged or not will be that such institutions . . . will be sheltered by access to a federal safety net in time of crisis; they will be broadly understood to be 'too big to fail,'" Mr. Volcker told Congress.
Rather than creating broad bailout expectations destined to be expensively fulfilled, the former Fed chairman wants Washington to draw a tighter circle around commercial banks with insured deposits. Those inside the circle get heavy oversight and are eligible for assistance during a crisis. Assumptions that various other firms also enjoy the federal safety net "should be discouraged," said Mr. Volcker.
We don't agree with all of Mr. Volcker's prescriptions—nor he with ours—but on too big to fail he's exactly right. As he also told Congress, regulators are unlikely to correctly guess which firms will pose systemic risk, and the implicit protection by taxpayers could put firms not deemed important by Washington at a market disadvantage. He also pointed out that, while Team Obama pushes its plan to address firms that are "systemically important," Treasury still hasn't said what exactly that means.
Mr. Volcker's comments won't endear him to Administration officials due to receive more power under the Treasury plan, but taxpayers should be cheering his counsel.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Spengler back in June
on: September 26, 2009, 11:13:16 AM
Obama creates a deadly power vacuum
There's a joke about a man who tells a psychiatrist, "Everybody hates me," to which the psychiatrist responds, "That's ridiculous - everyone doesn't know you, yet." Which brings me to Barack Obama: one of the best-informed people in the American security establishment told me the other day that the president is a "Manchurian Candidate".
That can't be true - Manchuria isn't in the business of brainwashing prospective presidential candidates any more. There's no one left to betray America to. Obama is creating a strategic void in which no major power will dominate, and every minor power must fend for itself. The outcome is incalculably hard to analyze and terrifying to consider.
Obama doesn't want to betray the United States; he only wants to empower America's enemies. Forcing Israel to abandon its strategic buffer (the so-called settlements) was supposed to placate Iran, so that Iran would help America stabilize Iraq, where its influence looms large over the Shi'ite majority.
America also sought Iran's help in suppressing the Taliban in Afghanistan. In Obama's imagination, a Sunni Arab coalition - empowered by Washington's turn against Israel - would encircle Iran and dissuade it from acquiring nuclear weapons, while an entirely separate Shi'ite coalition with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would suppress the radical Sunni Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This was the worst-designed scheme concocted by a Western strategist since Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery attacked the bridges at Arnhem in 1944, and it has blown up in Obama's face.
Iran already has made clear that casting America's enemies in the leading role of an American operation has a defect, namely that America's enemies rather would lose on their own terms than win on America's terms. Iran's verbal war with the American president over the violent suppression of election-fraud protests leaves Washington with no policy at all. The premise of Obama's policy was that progress on the Palestinian issue would empower a Sunni coalition. As the president said May 18:
If there is a linkage between Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, I personally believe it actually runs the other way. To the extent that we can make peace with the Palestinians - between the Palestinians and the Israelis, then I actually think it strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with the potential Iranian threat.
Israel's supporters remonstrated in vain. Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, a prominent Obama supporter, wrote, "If there is to be any linkage - and I do not believe there should be - it goes the other way: it will be much easier for Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank if Iran does not have a nuclear umbrella under which it can continue to encourage Hamas and Hezbollah to fire rockets at Israeli civilians."
No matter: America made clear that it had annulled the George W Bush administration's promise that a final settlement would allow most of Israel's 500,000 "settlers" to keep their homes, in order to launch the fantasy ship of Iranian cooperation with America.
That policy now is in ruins, and Washington has no plan B. David Axelrod, Obama's top political advisor, told television interviewers on January 28 that Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who spent the last week denouncing the United States, "Did not have final say" over Iran's foreign policy and that America still wanted to negotiate with Iran. This sounds idiotic, but the White House really has painted itself into a corner. The trouble is that Obama has promised to withdraw American forces from Iraq, and Iran has sufficient influence in Shi'ite-majority Iraq to cause continuous upheaval, perhaps even to eventually win control of the country.
By a fateful coincidence, American troops are scheduled to leave Iraq's urban centers on June 30. Overthrowing Saddam Hussein left Iraq open to Iranian destabilization; that is why the elder George Bush left the Iraqi dictator in power in 1990.
Offering Iran a seat at the table in exchange for setting a limit to its foreign ambitions - in Lebanon and Gaza as well as Iraq - seemed to make sense on paper. But the entity that calls itself revolutionary Islam is not made of paper, but of flesh and blood. It is in danger of internal collapse and can only assert its authority by expanding its influence as aggressively as it can.
After the election disaster, Iran's revolutionary leadership urgently needs to demonstrate its credibility. Israel now can say, "A country that murders its own citizens will have no compunction about massacring its enemies," and attack Iran's nuclear capacity with fewer consequences than would have been imaginable in May. And if an Israeli strike were to succeed, or appear successful to the world, the resulting humiliation might be fatal to the regime.
Israel may not be Tehran's worst nightmare. Iraq's Sunnis are testing the resolve of the weakened mullahs. The suicide bombing that killed 73 people at a Shi'ite mosque in Kirkuk on June 20 and a second bombing that killed another 72 Shi'ites in Baghdad's Sadr City slum most likely reflect Sunni perceptions that a weakened Tehran will provide less support for Iraqi Shi'ites. Although Shi'ites comprise more than three-fifths of Iraq's population, Sunnis provided the entire military leadership and are better organized on the ground. America's hopes of enlisting Iran to provide cover for its withdrawal from the cities of Iraq seem delusional.
What move on the chessboard might Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei venture to pre-empt an Israeli air raid against the nuclear facilities? Iran has the rocket launchers of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, and terrorist sleeper cells throughout the world. Iran might seek to pre-empt what it anticipates to be the next move from Israel by demonstrating its capacity to inflict injury on Israel or on Jewish targets elsewhere. That would require careful judgment, for a heavy handed action could provide a pretext for even more serious action by the Israelis and others. The same sort of consideration applies to Iranian support for Pakistan Shi'ites, for Hezbollah, and other vehicles of Iran's program of imperial expansion.
The Obama administration has put itself in a peculiar bind. It has demanded that the Pakistani army suppress the Taliban, after Islamabad attempted a power-sharing agreement that left the Taliban in control of the Swat Valley. To root out the largely Pashtun Taliban, Pakistan's largely Punjabi army has driven a million people into refugee camps and leveled entire towns in the Swat Valley. Tens of thousands of refugees are now fleeing the Pakistani army in the South Waziristan tribal area. Punjabis killing Pashtuns is nothing new in the region, but the ferocity of the present effort does not augur well for an early end to the conflict.
While the Pakistan army holds nothing back in attacking the Taliban, American troops in Afghanistan have been told that they no longer can call in air strikes if civilians are likely to suffer. That will put American forces in the unfortunate position of the Pirates of Penzance, who exempted orphans. Once this became generally known, everyone they attempted to rob turned out to be an orphan.
The Taliban need only take a page from Hamas' book, and ensure that civilians are present wherever they operate. The US has made clear that it will not deal in civilian blood, the currency of warfare in that region since before the dawn of history. It will not be taken seriously in consequence.
What will the administration do now? As all its initiatives splatter against the hard realities of the region, it will probably do less and less, turning the less appetizing aspects of the fighting over to local allies and auxiliaries who do not share its squeamishness about shedding civilian blood. That is the most dangerous outcome of all, for America is the main stabilizing force in the region.
The prospect of civil wars raging simultaneously in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq is no longer improbable. The Israel-Palestine issue is linked to all of these through Iran, whose credibility depends on its ability to sustain such puppies of war as Hezbollah and Hamas. Whether or not the Israelis take the opportunity to strike Iran, the prospect of an Israeli strike will weigh on Iran's proxies in the region, and keep Israel's borders in condition of potential violence for the interim.
America's great good fortune is that no hostile superpower stands ready to benefit from its paralysis and confusion. When Soviet troops landed in Afghanistan in December 1979, America was in the grip of an economic crisis comparable to the present depression. American diplomats at the Tehran Embassy were still hostages to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. The price of gold doubled from around $400 to $800 after the Russian invasion because most of the world thought that Russia would win the Cold War. If America lost its dominant superpower status in the West, the dollar no longer could serve as a global reserve currency. To the superpower goes the seigniorage, the state's premium for providing a currency.
By contrast, the gold price barely fluttered all through the present crisis. America remains the undisputed global superpower for the time being. America's creditors express consternation about its $1.8 trillion budget deficit and many trillions more of guarantees for the banking system, but there is nothing they can do about it for the time being but talk. That is how one should interpret a June 25 Reuters report that a "senior researcher with the ruling Communist Party" had urged China to shift some of its $2 trillion in reserves out of dollars and into gold.
Li Lianzhong, who heads the economic department of the Party's policy research office, said China should use more of its $1.95 trillion in foreign exchange reserves to buy energy and natural resource assets. Speaking at a foreign exchange and gold forum, Li also said that buying land in the United States was a better option for China than buying US Treasury securities.
"Should we buy gold or US Treasuries?" Li asked. "The US is printing dollars on a massive scale, and in view of that trend, according to the laws of economics, there is no doubt that the dollar will fall. So gold should be a better choice."
There is no suggestion that Li, even though he is a senior researcher, was enunciating an agreed party line.
The last thing China wants at the moment is to undercut the US dollar, for three reasons. First, as America's largest creditor, China has the most to lose from a dollar collapse. Second, Americans would buy fewer Chinese imports. And third, the collapse of the dollar would further erode America's will to fulfill its superpower function, and that is what China wants least of all.
America remains the indispensable outsider in Asia. No one likes the United States, but everyone dislikes the United States less than they dislike their neighbors. India need not worry about China's role in Pakistan, for example, because America mediates Indian-Pakistani relations, and America has no interest in a radical change to the status quo. Neither does China, for that matter, but India is less sure of that. China does not trust Japan for historical reasons that will not quickly fade, but need not worry about it because America is the guarantor of Japan's security. The Seventh Fleet is the most disliked - and nonetheless the most welcome - entity in Asia.
All of this may change drastically, quickly, and for the worse. Obama's policy reduces to empowering America's enemies in the hope that they will conform to American interests out of gratitude. Just the opposite result is likely to ensure: Iran, Pakistan and other regional powers are likely to take radical measures. Iran is threatened with a collapse of its Shi'ite program from Lebanon to Afghanistan, and Pakistan is threatened with a breakup into three or more states.
Obama has not betrayed the interests of the United States to any foreign power, but he has done the next worst thing, namely to create a void in the region by withdrawing American power. The result is likely to be a species of pandemonium that will prompt the leading players in the region to learn to live without the United States.
In his heart of hearts, Obama sees America as a force for evil in the world, apologizing for past American actions that did more good than harm. An example is America's sponsorship of the 1953 coup in Iran that overthrew the left-leaning government of Mohammed Mossadegh.
"In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government," the president offered in his Cairo address to Muslims on June 5. Although Iran's theocracy despises Mossadegh - official Iranian textbooks call him the "son of a feudal family of exploiters who worked for the cursed Shah, and betrayed Islam" - Iran's government continues to reproach America for its role in the coup. "With a coup they toppled the national government of Iran and replaced it with a harsh, unpopular and despotic regime," Ahmadinejad complained in a January 28 speech.
It is s a bit late to offer advice to Obama, but the worst thing America can do is to apologize. Instead, it should ask for the gratitude of the developing world. Weak countries become punching-bags in the proxy wars of empires. This was from the dawn of history until the fall of the last empire - the "evil" empire of Soviet communism.
The Soviets exploited anti-colonial movements from the 1917 Bolshevik coup until the collapse of the Afghanistan adventure in the late 1980s. Nationalists who tried to ride the Russian tiger ended up in its belly more often than on its back. Iran, Chile, Nicaragua, Angola and numerous other weak countries became the hapless battleground for the contest of covert operations between the Soviet Union and America - not to mention Vietnam and Korea.
The use of developing countries as proxy battlefields and their people as cannon fodder came to an end with the Cold War. As a result, the past 20 years have seen the fastest improvement in living standards ever in the global south, and a vast shift in wealth towards so-called developing countries.
By defeating Russia in the Cold War, America made it possible for governments in the global south to pursue their own interests free from the specter of Soviet subversion. And by countering Soviet subversion, America often averted much worse consequences.
Many deficiencies can be ascribed to the Shah of Iran, but a communist regime in the wake of a Mossadegh administration would have been indescribably worse. The septuagenarian Mossadegh had his own agenda, but he relied on the support of the communist Tudeh party. The US feared a Soviet invasion of Iran, and "the [Harry S] Truman administration was willing to consider a Soviet invasion of Iran as a casus belli, or the start of a global war", according to Francis J Gavin's 1999 article in The Journal of Cold War Studies.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) with help from British intelligence helped the shah overthrow the left-leaning regime. But this was no minor colonial adventure, but a flashpoint with the potential to start a world war.
It is painful and humiliating for Iranians to recall the overthrow of a democratically elected government with American help. It would have been infinitely more humiliating to live under Soviet rule, like the soon-to-be-extinct victims of Soviet barbarism in Eastern Europe.
The same is true of Chile, where the brutal regime of General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in 1973, with help from the CIA. Allende was surrounded by Cuban intelligence operations. As Wikipedia reports:
Shortly after the election of Salvador Allende in November 1970, the [Cuban Directorate of Intelligence - DI] worked extremely closely to strengthen Allende's increasingly precarious position. The Cuban DI station chief Luis Fernandez Ona even married Salvador Allende's daughter Beatrice, who later committed suicide in Cuba. The DI organized an international brigade that would organize and coordinate the actions of the thousands of the foreign leftists that had moved into Chile shortly after Allende's election. These individuals ranged from Cuban DI agents, Soviet, Czech and North Korean military instructors and arms suppliers, to hardline Spanish and Portuguese Communist Party members.
My Latin American friends who still mourn the victims of Pinochet's "night and fog" state terror will not like to hear this, but the several thousand people killed or tortured by the military government were collateral damage in the Cold War. Like Iran, Chile became the battleground of a Soviet-American proxy war. The same is true in Nicaragua. (Full disclosure: I advised Nicaragua's president Violeta Chamorro after she defeated the Cuban-backed Sandinistas in the 1990 elections; I did so with no tie to any government agency.)
Obama's continuing obsession with America's supposed misdeeds - deplorable but necessary actions in time of war - is consistent with his determination to erode America's influence in the most troubled parts of the world. By removing America as a referee, he will provoke more violence than the United States ever did. We are entering a very, very dangerous period as a result.
Spengler is channeled by David P Goldman, Associate Editor of First Things (www.firstthings.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: A commitment to postpone a commitment
on: September 26, 2009, 05:30:17 AM
A Mutual Commitment to Postpone a Commitment
IN THE LAST LEG OF THIS WEEK’S GLOBAL SUMMITS MARATHON, world leaders made their way to Pittsburgh for a G-20 meeting after a lively U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York drew to a close Thursday.
What the assembly lacked in substance, it certainly made up in entertainment value. Highlights included U.S. President Barack Obama chairing a rare U.N. Security Council meeting, where all members adopted a toothless resolution on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, a fashionably dressed Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi delivering a 90-minute monologue on topics ranging from sodomy to the number of U.S. warships used to invade Grenada in 1983 — and finally, a charged face-off between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Unsurprisingly, the focus has turned to the growing crisis between Israel and Iran. After a long-winded Wednesday night speech by Ahmadinejad, in which he reiterated Iran’s refusal to curb its nuclear program, Netanyahu took the podium Thursday with a forceful speech that not only condemned the Iranian regime for its denial of the Holocaust and “dangerous” polices, but also condemned the rest of the United Nations for allegedly failing to take a stand against Tehran. In a nutshell, Netanyahu was saying that, given the track record of failed or nonexistent U.N. resolutions, he does not trust the Security Council to protect Israel from an existential threat: a potentially nuclear Iran.
This message is loaded with implications. In less than a week, leaders from the P-5+1 group – made up of the five permanent U.N. Security Council states, along with Germany — will be meeting with Iranian officials to discuss the nuclear program. And so far, the Iranians have given every indication that they do not intend to concede enough to satisfy Israel’s concerns about the nuclear program. Israel therefore is left with few options – especially since it appears the wheels are already coming off the United States’ threatened sanctions regime, which would target Iran’s gasoline imports.
“Not only can Russia completely destroy the effectiveness of a U.S.-led sanctions regime, but it can provide Iran with critical weapons systems that could seriously complicate an attack against Iran down the road.”
The Israelis also understand the Russia factor. Russia is engaged in an ongoing struggle to win Washington’s recognition of its influence in the former Soviet region. So far, the United States hasn’t given Russia what it wants. Consequently, Russia continues to flaunt the leverage it has with the United States over its ties to Iran. Not only can Russia completely destroy the effectiveness of a U.S.- led sanctions regime, but it can provide Iran with critical weapons systems that could seriously complicate an attack against Iran down the road. The Israelis simply are not seeing the value in delaying much longer.
Israel therefore is leaning heavily on the United States to reach some sort of compromise with Moscow and bring the Russians in line on the Iran issue.
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev made a statement on Wednesday that might indicate that such a compromise has a chance — however slight — of happening. “I told the president of the United States that we think it necessary to help Iran make the right decision,” Medvedev said, with just the right touch of ambiguity. “As for various types of sanctions, Russia’s position is very simple, and I spoke about it recently. Sanctions rarely lead to productive results, but in some cases, the use of sanctions is inevitable. Ultimately, this is a matter of choice, and we are prepared to continue cooperating with the U.S. administration on issues relating to Iran’s peaceful nuclear program, as well as other matters.”
This is a notable shift in tone coming out of Moscow, but does not yet signify that a deal has been made between the Americans and the Russians that would alleviate the crisis over Iran. Our Russian sources are hinting that something bigger may be under way, but they also have made it clear that this is just the beginning of negotiations. One source in particular has indicated that thus far, Washington is at least considering a Russian demand to postpone the U.S. deployment of a Patriot air defense battery in Poland. In return, Moscow would stick to its pledge to delay delivery of the S-300 strategic air defense system to Iran. In essence, this would be a mutual commitment to postpone commitment to their strategic allies.
But, would that be enough to satisfy Israel?
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / The Poz
on: September 25, 2009, 07:41:30 PM
Chris "The Tree that Walks" Poznik (a.k.a. "the Poz") has a gig tomorrow working as a referee on some reality tv show for a boxing match between two guys to see who gets a date with a Playboy Playmate.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Sex Ed
on: September 25, 2009, 07:06:39 PM
You’re teaching my child what?
Miriam Grossman | 24 September 2009
The following is an interview with Miriam Grossman, MD, author of the recently-released You’re teaching my child what? A physician exposes the lies of sex education and how they harm your child. The interview was conducted by Peter Jon Mitchell, Research Analyst, Institute of Marriage and Family Canada and is published here at Mercatornet with permission.
IMFC: What was your motivation for this new book?
Miriam Grossman: Frankly, I wrote it because I was fed up. As you know, I worked for twelve years as a psychiatrist for students at the UCLA campus here in California. During that time, thousands of kids came through my office. I was alarmed at how many of them had sexually transmitted infections and concerned about students, mostly young women, whose sexual lifestyle placed them at risk for disease, emotional distress and even infertility later in life. I was frustrated to see patient after patient in similar situations, yet my hands were tied. There wasn’t much I could do for them. These were young people who were otherwise well informed and proactive about their health. They were careful about what they ate, they exercised, avoided tobacco, and so on. But in this one area, in their sexual behaviour, they took alarming risks, and that was perplexing. I began to question these students carefully, and I examined how campus health and counselling centers approach sexual health issues. Those findings were discussed in my book Unprotected: A Campus Psychiatrist Reveals How Political Correctness in Her Profession Harms Every Student.
This new project was an extension of that. I went deeper into the field of sex education, looking at exactly what kids are taught, and at the history of sex education in the United States. I went online and explored the websites, books, pamphlets and videos created for kids and young adults. What I discovered was deeply disturbing, and that’s what this book is about.
IMFC: In the book you argue that sex educators and activists dismiss the fundamentals of child development, and omit critical findings of neurobiology, gynaecology and infectious disease. You suggest this has profound consequences, particularly for girls. How so?
MG: Absolutely. We have a wealth of new science that’s omitted from sex ed. For example, in the past decade our understanding of the teen brain, and how it reasons and makes decisions during moments of high stimulation has grown tremendously. We didn’t know until recently that the brain area that is responsible for making rational, thought-out decisions, the area that considers the pros and cons and consequences of decisions, is immature in teens. The circuits aren’t complete; the wiring is unfinished. Sex educators insist that, like adults, teens are capable of making responsible decisions, they just lack information about sexuality and access to contraceptives. So the way to fight sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancies, these authorities argue, is to provide teens with information and contraceptives, and teach them skills like how to say “no” and how to put on a condom. But current neuropsychological research does not support this stance. We know now that teens’ poor decisions are likely due not to lack of information, but to lack of judgement. And there is only one thing that will bring that: time.
Another example of critical information omitted from sex ed: a girl’s biological vulnerability to sexually transmitted infections. The cervix of teen girls is covered by a layer that is only one cell thick. That area is easily penetrated by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer. (The human papillomavirus is the STI we now have a vaccination against, and that’s another controversial issue.) With time, the surface is covered by cells that are 30 to 40 layers thick, and is therefore much more difficult to infect. Girls need to understand this from an early age. We have dramatic images [of the immature cervix] that we must show girls so they can grasp the importance of delaying sexual behaviour. These kids must be informed that putting all questions of morality aside, if they are sexually active at a young age, they are at risk for infections that could impact their physical and emotional well-being over the course of their lives.
A third point is kids aren’t told that oral sex is associated with cancers of the throat. Needless to say this is important, and indeed life-saving, information yet it is withheld from kids, and that is the height of irresponsibility. One of the points I make in the book is organizations such as Planned Parenthood and SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US) claim to be providing up-to-date, medically-accurate information. But they do nothing of the sort.
Instead, these organizations teach kids that they are “sexual” from cradle to grave, that adolescence is the natural time to explore sexuality and that kids have the right to express their sexuality in whatever manner they choose. This message promotes sexual freedom, not sexual health. This is ideology, not science. When sexual freedom is the priority, sexual health suffers. And indeed, the statistics in the US on sexually transmitted infections, HIV, teen pregnancy, and abortion are mind numbing.
IMFC: Where do these organizations place the role of parents in their ideology? What are they saying to kids about parents?
MG: This is another disturbing feature of the sex ed fiasco. I discovered a duplicity exists. When speaking to the media, and in their material for parents, sex educators state that sex education should start at home and that parents should be the primary sex educators of children. But in material directed at kids the message is altogether different. Here’s what SIECUS says in an online booklet for kids called All About Sex. It opens with eight pages on sexual rights: “Every human being has basic rights. Still, adults may say and do things that make young people feel like they don’t have rights. It’s important for you to know your rights so you can stand up for yourself when necessary.” Then a bit later: “You have the right to decide how to express your sexuality at every point in your life. You can choose if and how to express your sexuality.”
Ninety per cent of parents want their kids to delay sexual behaviour, and they expect sex educators to enforce that message. Organizations like SIECUS promise to do so, but they don’t. All About Sex is a good example of what really goes on. The goal is for the young person to realize that, sure, adults may have their opinions, but kids of all ages have the right to their own ideas about sexuality, as well as the right to behave in any way they like. Nowhere in this pamphlet are kids told: we urge you to delay sexual behaviour because that’s the healthiest choice.
IMFC: The book will be an eye opener for parents. What can concerned parents do?
MG: The situation is sobering but my overall message is positive. The good news is that all these sexual health problems are 100 per cent avoidable. And there is so much parents can do to protect their kids. We know that young people are profoundly influenced by their parents, the messages they get from their parents, their perceptions of what their parents believe in, their parents’ values, and what their parents’ expectations are. There are many studies that I go through in the book that demonstrate that a parenting style of being warm and supportive and yet having high expectations and firm rules has profound influence on children and teens and the decisions they make. Obviously parents need to be informed. They need the information in this book; they are not going to find it anywhere else. I’m a medical doctor and I scoured the literature for the latest on sexually transmitted infections, how girls are more vulnerable emotionally and physically than boys, what kids are told about same-sex attraction, gender identity, and many other topics. My book is not politically correct, but it is medically accurate. I explain biological truths that are not discussed elsewhere. For example, kids are being told that they can be male, female or something else; that there are more than two genders and that it is natural to question who you are at any time in your life. This is madness. It’s not only medically inaccurate, it confuses our kids and it leads them into a minefield of emotional and physical hazards.
IMFC: What would you say to government policy makers?
MG: They must find the courage to challenge the status quo. People need to stand up, be politically incorrect, and acknowledge the truth of biology. Certain groups will object, because what is seen under the microscope and on brain scans contradicts their vision. It’s going to take that courage to change policy, to have an extreme makeover of our approach to sex education. You see, sex educators have institutionalized 20th century theories and social agendas, but hard science from this century completely discredits those theories and agendas. Sex education needs to come into the 21st century and leave behind ideas that are remnants of the sexual revolution and feminism.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Insanity of Same-Sex Parenting
on: September 25, 2009, 07:01:00 PM
The insanity of same-sex parenting
David van Gend | 14 September 2009
I was at Pizza Hut with my three primary-age sons just after an Australian children's program, Play School, aired its lesbian "two mothers" episode. My youngest son asked very seriously, "Daddy, can two boys marry?" and the middle son stepped in, "No, but two girls can marry. They were talking about it at school".
I do not like strangers messing with the minds of my children. I object to anybody inserting disturbing notions into their sanely happy understanding of marriage and family.
Yet the disturbance is becoming all-pervasive, with an Australian Senate enquiry into the Greens-sponsored Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2009, and the launch this week of a national television campaign for gay marriage. From the commanding heights of culture come strange decrees that two women, or two men, are just as good as a mother and father when it comes to raising a child. Who are these surreal city-dwellers, so out of touch with nature?
In the northern state of Queensland it was Premier Anna Bligh who announced last month that two men will be allowed to get a baby of their own by surrogacy. In Western Australia two homosexual men have already been given a child by adoption. In the southern state of Victoria two women are allowed to obtain a child using a stranger’s sperm, and be named as that child’s "two parents" on the birth certificate.
Think from the child’s perspective. A little girl should not have to look up and see two erotically involved men posing as her "parents". No matter how competent and caring a lesbian partner may be, she can never be a Dad to a young boy. Little children must not be subjected, by the law of the land, to a prolonged and uncontrolled experiment on their emotional development.
Anger with such governmental child abuse is entirely consistent with neighbourly friendliness to those fellow citizens afflicted with same-sex attraction. All privacy and respect is to be given to adults who have to live with this profoundly complex condition, but no little child is to be made to participate in their affliction.
A baby needs the love of both her mother and her father! How can anyone with normal experience of life question that? Certainly there are tragedies of a parent’s death or desertion which destroy the foundation of many a child’s world -- but that is a tragedy nobody would ever wish upon a child. Yet here the state deliberately inflicts this tragedy upon an innocent baby by decreeing that he or she will enter the world without even the possibility of both a Mum and a Dad.
No politicians have the authority to so violate the primal needs of a child or mess with the deep sanity of nature.
In such a debate, evidence from social science has only a secondary role. Certainly the best-designed studies confirm the obvious -- that a child does best in every respect when raised by his or her own parents, or in the nearest equivalent context of an adopting mother and father. In the light of this research, the American College of Pediatricians in 2004 concludes: "The environment in which children are reared is absolutely critical to their development. Given the current body of research, the American College of Pediatricians believes it is inappropriate, potentially hazardous to children, and dangerously irresponsible to change the age-old prohibition on homosexual parenting, whether by adoption, foster care, or by reproductive manipulation. This position is rooted in the best available science."
However, nobody needs to resort to "the best available science" to defend the obvious insight that a little child needs both a mother and a father. The judgment of anyone who cannot see this as a self-evident fact of life, as the most commonsense and necessary condition of a child’s wellbeing, is suspect.
As for political strategy, pro-family activists sometimes forget that defending marriage is meaningless if they cannot defend the right of a child to a natural upbringing. If homosexual adults are disallowed from calling their union "marriage" but are still allowed to obtain children by artificial means, then marriage is a dead word.
That is because marriage is primarily a license to form a family, not merely a license for sexual relations. As atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote in Marriage and Morals (1929): "It is through children alone that sexual relations become of importance to society, and worthy to be taken cognizance of by a legal institution." Homosexual acts cannot create children; therefore the State has no interest in regulating homosexual relationships.
The legal institution of marriage buttresses a biological phenomenon for the sake of social stability. It is society’s way of binding a feral-by-nature male to his mate and his child, in order that a child can benefit from the complementary nurture of both a mother and father.
As David Blankenhorn wrote in The Future of Marriage (2007): "Marriage is fundamentally about the needs of children… Redefining marriage to include gay and lesbian couples would eliminate entirely in law, and weaken still further in culture, the basic idea of a mother and a father for every child."
Nothing less is at stake than that an innocent child, first opening her eyes in this world, should see the faces of those two people, her own mother and father, who together gave her life, not the faces of two men who will be her technologically-contrived, State-decreed "parents".
Time is running out to restrain the social vandals who write laws in our land. As Blankenhorn warned: "Once this proposed reform (of gay marriage) became law, even to say the words out loud in public -- ‘Every child needs a father and a mother’ -- would probably be viewed as explicitly divisive and discriminatory, possibly even as hate speech."
For the sake of all children yet to be born we must despise threats of "hate speech" and say out loud that every child needs the love of a father and a mother.
Dr David van Gend is a family doctor in Toowoomba, Australia.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sanctions 3.5
on: September 25, 2009, 12:16:56 PM
The Iranian government continues to make bold claims about its ability to
massively ramp up its refining capacity and become self-sufficient in
gasoline production within four years, but this is mostly hot air. Iran
simply doesn't have the capability to meet its gasoline production goals on
its own without the necessary foreign investment. And even if Iran had
willing partners in places like Central Asia, it would still need to
overcome its extreme reluctance to actually foot the bill for such projects.
It may strike some as odd that Iran has acquired a capability to develop
nuclear technology but still struggles to build and operate refineries on
its own. There are a number of reasons for this, but the simple answer is
that the technology for a nuclear program dates back to the 1930s and 1940s
and has not changed much since, while refining technology is continually
updated and Iran has been out of the global oil-and-gas mainstream for 30
years now. A nuclear weapons program requires a couple dozen or so highly
trained scientists and engineers to operate it, and these personnel can be
trained in any number of institutions around the world. On the other hand, a
permanent staff for a refinery producing around 300,000 bpd would require
some 1,200 highly trained technicians and petroleum engineers, and most of
Iran's intelligentsia - particularly the group with strong technical
skills - left the country following the Iranian Revolution. Iran's stated
energy goals are full of delusion as well as ambition.
Confronting the Subsidy Problem
Iran thus has little choice but to figure out a way to reduce gasoline
consumption at home. The Iranians started on this initiative in June 2007
when the regime implemented a rationing system. Though the move was
extremely unpopular and instigated a spate of riots in Tehran, the backlash
was swiftly contained and, according to energy industry sources, Iranian
gasoline imports dropped from 40 percent of total domestic consumption to
about 25 to 30 percent.
The next step is for the regime to start cutting untenable subsidy rates by
raising the price of gasoline. This is a plan that has long been in the
works but has been put off time and time again due to the regime's
deep-rooted fear of sparking major social unrest. This especially became a
concern following the June presidential election debacle, which gave scores
of Iranian citizens the courage to pour into the streets to voice their
dissent against Ahmadinejad. Though the protests have dramatically dwindled
in size, they continue sporadically and are a persistent irritant to the
regime. Iranian sources claim that the coming gasoline price hike will not
be that dramatic in the beginning. The government would likely continue to
subsidize domestically produced gasoline while allowing the cost of imported
gasoline to rise so it can pass along a portion of the costs to the consumer
and further dampen demand.
Besides the potential political fallout, there is another significant issue
with this gasoline price-hike plan. Since gasoline prices are heavily
subsidized in Iran and are, therefore, much cheaper than the gasoline sold
in neighboring countries, Iran has a major problem with gasoline smuggling
to these countries. Iranian sources claim that more than 750,000 barrels are
smuggled every month from Iran to Turkey, Afghanistan and Iraq, and this
puts a considerable drain on Iran's energy revenues. The smuggling rings are
run by a variety of actors, from Iranian organized crime entities linked to
the IRGC to Balochi tribesmen to Kurdish smugglers, and they are extremely
difficult for the regime to dismantle. Moreover, Iranian officials tend to
turn a blind eye to these smuggling practices in order to buy political
patronage from non-Persian minorities (Kurds, Balochis and Azeris) in the
borderlands who could otherwise cause serious trouble for the regime. With
the political situation at home particularly dicey right now, the Iranian
government will have to proceed cautiously with any future price hikes,
which are sure to be applied unevenly across the country.
Natural Gas Relief?
Iran also has an alternative-fuel plan under way that capitalizes on the
country's natural gas resources and reduces its reliance on refined crude,
but the results have so far been limited. The plan involves encouraging the
use of compressed natural gas (CNG) for Iranian motorists. Cars that can run
on CNG, which are prevalent in South Asia and Latin America, can be more
economical and environmentally friendly. In fact, the price of CNG retails
at around 4 cents per cubic meter (roughly equivalent to one liter of
gasoline). Moreover, the technology used to compress natural gas is far less
complex than that needed to refine crude. Considering that Iran is the world's
fourth-largest producer of natural gas, the switch to CNG makes sense, but
there is one big drawback. Vehicles must be modified to run on CNG, and CNG
stations would have to be built across the country. None of this would be
quick or cheap for Iran.
Nevertheless, Iran has made notable progress since kicking off its CNG plan
in 2007, when Iran Khodro Industrial Group - Iran's leading automaker -
invested $50 million in low-consumption, flexible-fuel engine production
lines. Former Iranian Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari said in July that
there are currently 880 CNG stations in Iran, with plans to build an
additional 400 within the next several months. Since Iran Khodro started
ramping up production of CNG-capable vehicles, Iran has become the world's
fourth-largest CNG-vehicle producer following Argentina, Pakistan and
Brazil, according to the International Association for Natural Gas Vehicles.
As of May 2009, Iranian government officials claim the official count of
CNG-capable vehicles on the road totaled 1.4 million. The total number of
cars in Iran was estimated to be 11.7 million in 2008, according to the
Global Market Information Database. All in all, estimated fuel replacement
by CNG is currently around 7 percent of Iran's total automobile fuel
consumption, up from zero five years ago. While Iran seems to be making
steady progress in the CNG arena, it still has a way to go before the switch
to CNG would make a significant dent in the country's gasoline imports.
Responding to Pressure
When STRATFOR speaks to Iranian sources, we get the sense that the regime is
feeling fairly confident in its ability to slip the sanctions noose while
continuing to work on its nuclear program, using the same rhetoric it has
used for the past seven years to drag negotiations into a stalemate. This
continued confidence may be due to the fact that the Iranians have yet to
feel the pinch of Washington's quiet campaign against Iran's gasoline
suppliers. Though the energy majors appear to be dropping out of the Iranian
gasoline trade, the numbers we have seen indicate that Tehran is importing
surplus amounts of gasoline in preparation for tougher days to come.
However, should Iran fail to outmaneuver the P-5+1 come Oct. 1, those
tougher days could arrive sooner than it thinks.
In the weeks and months ahead, Israel will likely determine whether Iran and
the United States are headed for a collision course in the Persian Gulf. The
Israelis were promised "crippling" sanctions against Iran by the Obama
administration. If that promise goes unfulfilled, and the Iranians (as they
are expected to do) refuse to freeze their enrichment activities, the
Israelis are likely to turn to the military option and demand Washington's
cooperation. Israel understands Russia's leverage over Iran - particularly
its ability to arm the Iranians with critical defense systems and sabotage a
gasoline sanctions regime - and would rather deal decisively with the
Iranian nuclear issue while the program is still several steps away from a
Israel, unlike the United States, never had much faith in the sanctions to
begin with. The U.S. administration appears to be operating under the
assumption that severe sanctions against Iran will create a dire economic
situation in the country, galvanize the masses against the clerical elite
and thus coerce the regime into making significant concessions on its
nuclear program. More imaginative policymakers believe that such economic
sanctions could build on the dissent that followed the election and produce
a third front to challenge and topple the regime. But Tehran's actual
actions are unlikely to mesh nicely with Washington's preferred perception
of the regime's mindset. Iran - at least for now - has no intention of
meeting the West's demands to curb its nuclear program and takes the idea of
resistance very seriously.
A Doomsday Scenario
Israel is willing to see how the sanctions regime plays out, but it also
knows that it has a limited menu of options. If the sanctions are blown
apart with Russia's help, the Iranians will obviously feel little pressure
to negotiate seriously and the Israelis will have to turn to alternative
options. If the sanctions prove effective because of Russian cooperation, a
U.S. willingness to risk trade spats to enforce the sanctions or a
combination of the two, the Iranians will be left feeling extremely
vulnerable. However, that vulnerability would not necessarily bring Iran to
the negotiating table. On the contrary, the Iranians are more likely to turn
increasingly insular and aggressive with their nuclear ambitions. While
extolling the virtues of self-sacrifice for national solidarity, the Iranian
regime would begin to seriously threaten to use its "real" nuclear option -
closing the Strait of Hormuz with mines and its arsenal of anti-ship
This is an option of last resort for the Iranians, but if Tehran feels
sufficiently threatened, either by sanctions or potential military strikes,
it could wreak havoc on the global economy within a matter of hours.
Setting ablaze the Strait of Hormuz would undoubtedly inflict intense pain
on the Iranian economy, but this may be a pain that the regime is willing to
bear while it watches energy prices soar and the world's industrial powers
plunge deeper into recession. At such a level of brinksmanship, the United
States would have to seriously consider a military campaign to preempt an
Iranian move to close the strait, providing Israel with an opportunity to
strike at Iran's nuclear facilities. If the United States failed to act in
time and Iran succeeded in mining this critical energy chokepoint, then the
U.S. military would have to clear the strait. Either way, the Persian Gulf
would become a war zone and the global ramifications would be immense.
This may be a doomsday scenario, but it is one of increasing credibility
given that the main players - Iran, the United States, Russia and Israel -
continue to raise the stakes in pursuing their respective national
imperatives. A number of questions remain: Will the United States put its
trade relations on the line and aggressively enforce sanctions? Will Russia
go the extra mile for Tehran and bust the sanctions regime? Can the United
States and Russia reach a strategic compromise that will leave Iran out in
the cold? Has Israel's patience regarding Iranian diplomatic maneuvers run
out? Will Iran resort to its real nuclear option and threaten the Strait of
STRATFOR does not know the answers, and neither do the main stakeholders in
this saga. However, come Oct. 1 these stakeholders must begin making some
critical decisions that could dramatically alter the geopolitical landscape
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sanctions 3
on: September 25, 2009, 12:16:09 PM
Iran Sanctions (Special Series), Part 3: Preparing for the Worst
Stratfor Today » September 25, 2009 | 1203 GMT
Iran has long been preparing itself for U.S.-led sanctions against gasoline
imports and is confident in its ability to circumvent them. But even if the
sanctions did get Iran's attention, they would not necessarily bring it to
the negotiating table. Iran takes resistance very seriously, and while
extolling the virtues of self-sacrifice it could close the Strait of Hormuz,
which would wreak havoc on the global economy.
Editor's Note: This is part three of a three-part series on what sanctions
against Iran could mean for Iran, U.S.-Russian relations, Israel and the
a.. Click here to download a PDF of this report
a.. Click here to download a PDF of the entire Iran Sanctions Series
Related Special Topic Page
a.. Special Series: Iran Sanctions
As the Iranian regime continued apace with its nuclear program, it
understood that it was only a matter of time before the West would aim for
its gasoline imports, a potential Achilles' heel for Iran. Although Iran may
be one of the world's top-five crude-oil producers and exporters, its rogue
reputation isn't exactly good for business. The Iranian energy industry has
been sagging under the weight of sanctions for decades as the foreign energy
majors with the technical skill Iran so badly needs wait for the
geopolitical storm clouds to clear before tapping the country's vast energy
To contain domestic political dissent, the Iranian regime has heavily
subsidized the population's energy needs. The drawback to such a policy is
that ridiculously cheap gasoline prices (gasoline in Iran costs around 9
cents per liter) tend to fuel rapid consumption and rampant smuggling. As
Iran's population continued to grow, so did its appetite for gasoline, and
the regime has now reached a point where it simply cannot keep up with
domestic demand without importing at least one-third of its fuel.
So, while Iran's Arab rivals, such as energy heavyweight Saudi Arabia,
profited immensely from record-high crude prices in 2008, the Iranian regime
was still struggling to balance its accounts. Then came the global economic
collapse, which sliced the country's oil revenues in half. And given the
sponsorship by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of militant and
political proxies in Iraq and Lebanon, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's
repeated raids on the country's rainy-day oil funds for his political
campaigning, and funding for the Iranian nuclear program, Tehran does not
have much cash to spare.
Iran is not oblivious to its gasoline vulnerabilities, but it also isn't
left without options should Washington become more aggressive with its
sanctions campaign. As discussed in detail in part two of this series,
Russia - for its own strategic reasons - has developed a contingency plan,
most likely involving Russia's former Soviet surrogate, Turkmenistan, to
cover the gasoline gap should Iran start experiencing shortfalls. The
Russians are certainly not planning to do this out of the goodness of their
hearts and sincere loyalty to their allies in Tehran. On the contrary,
sabotaging Washington's sanctions regime against Tehran is yet another way
Moscow can turn the screws on the United States if the Obama administration
refuses to take seriously the Kremlin's demand that the West respect its
influence in the former Soviet sphere. Since the Obama administration backed
down recently from its Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) plans in Central
Europe, there could be more room for Russia and the United States to engage
in serious negotiations. That said, there is no guarantee that Washington
would be willing to pay the price of Russian hegemony in Eurasia in return
for Russia's cooperation on Iran, and Moscow will drive a hard bargain
before it even thinks about sacrificing its leverage with Iran.
Iran could certainly use Russia's help in maintaining its gasoline supply,
but Tehran is also quite wary of becoming that much more dependent on Moscow's
good graces for its energy security. Russia and Iran have quite a tumultuous
history (the Soviets briefly occupied Iran during World War II), and the
Iranian leadership is fearful of being abandoned by Russia should Moscow
reach some sort of compromise with Washington.
Iran's other energy-producing ally hostile to the United States is
Venezuela, which recently announced it would come to Iran's aid in the event
of sanctions and supply its Persian friends with 20,000 barrels per day
(bpd) of gasoline starting in October for an $800 million annual fee.
Beneath the revolutionary rhetoric of oppressed regimes sticking it to their
imperialist foes, this Venezuelan-Iranian energy deal is filled with holes.
For starters, Venezuela - much like Iran - is facing serious refining
problems due to mismanagement and a severe drop in foreign investment. Also
like Iran, Venezuela's populist regime heavily subsidizes its constituents
(gasoline in Venezuela is even cheaper than in Iran at 4 cents per liter),
sending consumption soaring over the past four years. While Venezuela is
currently refining around 420,000 bpd, it still needs to import gasoline to
help meet domestic demand.
Caracas could always go through a third party to supply gasoline to Iran
from a source closer to the Persian Gulf, but finding a willing supplier
could prove difficult and costly when insurance premiums and political risks
are taken into account. Moreover, should push come to shove, Washington has
substantial leverage over the Venezuelan regime given the abundance of
assets that Citgo, the refining unit of Venezuelan state oil company
Petroleos de Venezuela, has spread throughout the United States. The United
States also is the largest recipient of Venezuela's crude exports and one of
the few markets in the world with the technological capabilities to process
Venezuela's heavy crude, leaving Venezuela without much of a viable
Iran has already turned to China to help backfill its gasoline supply.
Latest estimates show that starting in September, China began to directly
supply up to one-third of Iran's total gasoline imports. Until now, Chinese
involvement in the gasoline trade had mostly been limited to shipping
companies. In the run-up to the Oct. 1 talks, China now has the extra
incentive to poke the United States and profit from these gasoline shipments
to Iran. After having boosted its refining capacity this year, China has
surplus gasoline to sell on the international market. In August alone China
exported 140,000 barrels of gasoline per day. Like Malaysia's Petronas,
which began supplying Iran with gasoline in August, China sees an
opportunity to profit off of Iran's gasoline trade at a time when political
tensions are rising and major energy firms, such as BP, Reliance and Total,
have already stopped or are cutting back their shipments to Iran. But Iran
may not be able to rely on Chinese aid over the long term.
China currently is in a heated trade spat with Washington over a recent U.S.
tariff on Chinese tire imports and could push back against Washington even
further by flouting the threatened sanctions regime. However, this is a
decision with major strings attached. Washington still has a great deal of
leverage over Beijing in the form of Section 421, a U.S. law that was
incorporated into China's accession agreement with the World Trade
Organization in 2001 and allows the United States to legally impose tariffs
on nearly any Chinese export until 2013. Now that Obama has put Section 421
to use in restricting tire imports, the Chinese have to think twice before
making any moves that could compel Washington to go even further in slapping
trade restrictions on China. Additionally, China is a massive energy
importer itself, so shipping any sort of energy product to the Middle East,
where its supply lines are unprotected, is something that works directly
against most of China's energy security strategies.
The United States has not yet formalized the gasoline sanctions against Iran
in the form of legislation or a U.N. Security Council resolution, and this
may be providing Beijing a limited opportunity to hit back at the United
States during the trade spat and demonstrate the limits of Beijing's
cooperation. However, Beijing will be far more cautious than Russia when it
comes to blocking sanctions against Iran and will keep a close eye on Russia's
intentions in deciding its next steps. China has long been noncommittal when
it comes to sanctions against Iran and will align itself with Russia in
forums like the U.N. Security Council to demonstrate its opposition to
punitive U.S. economic measures. Of course, if Russia folds and reaches some
sort of compromise with Washington, China will comply with the sanctions and
avoid being left in the spotlight as the sole sanctions-buster allied with
In short, Iran has friends that it can turn to if necessary, but the
reliability of those friends is by no means guaranteed.
Fending for Itself
In the spirit of self-sufficiency, Iran has long been preparing itself for a
U.S.-led offensive against Iranian gasoline imports. Over the past two
years, as talk of gasoline sanctions intensified, Iran sought out willing
suppliers to help stockpile its gasoline reserves. Iranian gasoline
consumption currently stands at around 300,000 to 400,000 bpd, but over the
past several months, Iran has been importing well in excess of that amount
from mostly Swiss suppliers and now newcomers like Malaysia's state-owned
Petronas, which are looking to replace the energy majors that are dropping
out of the Iranian gasoline trade while political tensions are high. Iranian
and U.S. intelligence sources claim that Iran currently has at least three
months worth of gasoline needs (estimates average around 30 million barrels)
stockpiled. The director of the National Iranian Oil Refining and
Distribution Company claims Iran's gasoline storage capacity is about 15.7
million barrels, which gives Iran about four months of in-storage capacity.
Some of the surplus gasoline is sitting on tankers off Kharg Island, but the
bulk of the supply is stored on land, where it is less vulnerable to
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sanctions 2
on: September 25, 2009, 12:13:57 PM
Iran Sanctions (Special Series), Part 2: FSU Contingency Plans
Stratfor Today » September 24, 2009 | 1209 GMT
Russia has been using its relationship with Iran as leverage against the
United States. In the face of the very real possibility of sanctions
targeting Iran's gasoline imports, Russia could continue using Iran to upset
U.S. plans by supplying the Islamic republic with gasoline. However, Moscow
knows that such a move would come with a political price.
Editor's Note: This is part two in a three-part series on what sanctions
against Iran could mean for Iran, U.S.-Russian relations, Israel and the
a.. Click here to download a PDF of this report
a.. Click here to download a PDF of the entire Iran Sanctions Series
Related Special Topic Page
a.. Special Series: Iran Sanctions
Russia, having found its strength again, has been pushing back against U.S.
influence in the former Soviet Union while the United States has been
preoccupied with its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But even with its success
against the Western geopolitical offensive in many places on its borders,
Moscow still demands that Washington put an end to its plan to expand NATO,
drop its backing of Georgia and Ukraine, and abandon any military buildup in
One of Russia's favorite pieces of leverage to use against the United States
has been its relationship with Iran. Since 1995, Russia has been helping
Iran build its nuclear power plant at Bushehr, though Moscow has refrained
from completing work on the plant in order to keep the issue alive and in
the Russian arsenal of threats against the United States. Russia has
continually delayed the delivery of advanced military technology to Iran,
like variants of the S-300 air defense system that would complicate a
potential military strike. Russia also has routinely blocked hard-hitting
sanctions on Iran in the U.N. Security Council. All of this has served to
bog Washington down in another Middle Eastern foreign policy dilemma while
Russia coaxes the United States into separate negotiations over Russian
interests, such as the West backing away from Russia's near abroad.
This arrangement has not only given Russia a trump card in its negotiations
with the United States; as long as Russia can use Iran against the United
States, Tehran is more capable of deflecting U.S. pressure.
But now the United States has devised a relatively robust sanctions plan
that will bypass the United Nations, so Russia will not have a chance to use
its veto power. Yet Russia could create a massive breach in the sanctions.
The new U.S. sanctions plan targets Iran's gasoline imports, which make up
at least a third of the country's consumption and most of which are shipped
to Iran through the Persian Gulf. Such a supply cut could devastate the
Iranian regime and economy, forcing Tehran to make real concessions on its
nuclear program. Venezuela, another state hostile to Washington, has offered
to step in and fill some of Iran's gasoline needs despite the sanctions, but
Venezuela's shipments to the Persian Gulf theoretically could be interrupted
by even a minor U.S. naval blockade. Therefore, if Iran is to circumvent
U.S. sanctions and get its gasoline, it will have to look closer to home.
Russia and several former Soviet states bordering Iran have one of the few
alternative supply options - sending gasoline in by rail or ship from the
north - which neither the United States nor Israel could block militarily.
Moreover, these countries have spare gasoline refining capacity.
Iran's gasoline imports fluctuate frequently but average about 176,000
barrels per day (bpd) - although the Iranians currently are importing more
than 400,000 bpd as they are stockpiling in preparation for possible
sanctions. Russia - and quite a few other former Soviet states - would be
able to fill Iran's basic import needs.
In this discussion, an understanding of gasoline refining capacity is
necessary. Every refinery typically has facilities that convert oil into
several different products, ranging from gasoline to diesel fuel to
kerosene. For most refineries in the former Soviet states, gasoline accounts
for about 10 to 15 percent of their total refining capacity. However, it is
rather simple to increase that percentage. Refineries do it frequently, such
as when gasoline inventories get built up in preparation for peak season
demand. At the higher end of refining gasoline, most refineries produce at
45 percent, but theoretically refineries can scale up gasoline production to
up to 70 to 85 percent of total refining capacity before the feedstock
becomes "over-cracked" and gasoline yield falls. Since gasoline refining can
fluctuate over such a wide range, STRATFOR will simply report the total
refining capacity for each country.
Russia is currently the world's largest oil producer (it recently surpassed
Saudi Arabia) at 9.9 million bpd. Russia exports 7.4 million bpd of that oil
in either crude or refined products, mainly to Europe. But Russia is also
one of the largest refiners in the world, with a capacity to refine 5.5
million bpd of oil products.
Russia's oil production has been declining, mainly because market demand has
slumped following an economic slowdown, but Russian refineries are still
working at about 80 percent of their capacity. Considering the size of
Russia's refining sector, increasing their refining closer to capacity could
cover Iran's basic import needs many times over.
Russia is not the only energy giant in the region. Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan
and Turkmenistan are all net crude and gasoline exporters. STRATFOR sources
have indicated that Kazakhstan is not considering any gasoline sales to
Iran, due to the large U.S. economic presence in the Central Asian country.
This leaves Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, both of which are among the top 20
global oil producers, both of which border Iran, and both of which have
plenty of spare refining capacity.
Azerbaijan currently produces about 1 million bpd of crude and has a
domestic refining capacity of 442,000 bpd. However due to a lack of global
demand, Azerbaijan is only refining at 27 percent of its capacity, leaving a
spare capacity that could cover Iran's import needs twice over. Turkmenistan
is in the same situation - producing about 195,000 bpd of crude, but only
refining at 20 percent of their 286,000 bpd capacity. This means that
Turkmenistan's spare capacity alone could easily cover Iran's import needs.
Between Russia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, there is plenty of spare
capacity to produce the gasoline that Iran would need in the event of
sanctions. The next issue is how to get the gasoline to Iran.
The former Soviet states have a vast series of rail interconnections, and
their close proximity to Iran makes this transit option one of the most
likely. Russia's southern belt of refineries lining the northern Caspian
region is along a series of rail networks that could transport gasoline to
Iran in the matter of a few days. Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan's refineries
are along rail networks that could transport gasoline to Iran in less than a
day. A typical gasoline-carrying train in the former Soviet states is
capable of transporting approximately 40,000 barrels of gasoline. For any of
the former Soviet states to fulfill Iran's current gasoline needs, the
trains would have to be sent four or five times a day.
(click here to enlarge image)
One problem with this is that the former Soviet Union's rail network is on a
different rail gauge from most of the rest of the world - a leftover from
Soviet times, when Josef Stalin wanted to prevent any potential invader from
using the Soviet Union's rail network to sustain an offensive inside Soviet
territory. The rail gauge in Russia and the former Soviet states is 1,520
mm. Iran is on the standard 1,435 mm gauge that most of the world uses. In
the past, any cargo traveling from one of the former Soviet states by rail
would have to be off-loaded from the Russian train cars and reloaded onto
foreign cars with a different gauge - wasting days on the journey. However,
since 2003 Russia has been mass-producing rail cars with an adjustable
gauge, allowing for the gauge to be shifted in mere hours.
Due to increasing oil prices, the Russians also mass-produced liquid tank
cars, increasing their fleet from 100,000 cars to more than 230,000. Since
demand for crude and gasoline declined, most of these tank cars are sitting
idly in Russia, so there would be no shortage to send to Iran.
But for Russia to get its gasoline to Iran, it would have to go south along
the Caspian via Azerbaijan or through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and
Turkmenistan. Azerbaijan or Turkmenistan could also use the Russian rail
cars to send gasoline to Iran.
There is a problem with either Azerbaijan sending gasoline to Iran via rail
or Russia using rail connections via Azerbaijan to supply Iran: The rail
lines in the region do not actually run into Iran. Of the two rail lines
from Azerbaijan to Iran, the most extensive runs from Azerbaijan to Armenia,
to the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan. This line was severely damaged
during the Nagorno-Karabakh War and remains in disrepair, so it cannot
handle any traffic. The second rail line runs along the Caspian Sea from
Russia to Iran via Azerbaijan, with multiple refineries along the way.
A rail line near the Iran-Azerbaijan border on May 28, 2009
However, this line ends once it reaches the Iranian border; all cargo has to
be trucked into Iran. Azerbaijan has used this line to send gasoline to Iran
before, and there has been much talk about expanding the line farther into
Iran (though no progress has been made on construction). This line is
running at approximately 27 percent capacity, which means it has room for a
surge of rail cars going to Iran.
Azerbaijan's rail lines might be problematic, but Turkmenistan has rail
lines that connect with Iran's rail network. However, for Russia to send
gasoline to Iran via Turkmenistan, the trains would have to transit
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan's relationships with Russia and
Turkmenistan are deteriorating, and STRATFOR sources in Kazakhstan have said
the country has taken part in discussions on allowing such a transit. There
is no indication, however, that Uzbekistan has been approached about the
There is also much discussion of shipping gasoline to Iran on the Caspian
Sea, which is bordered by Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and
Iran - five countries that have continually bickered about dividing up the
sea among them.
Currently, only a nominal amount of gasoline is shipped across the Caspian,
but such shipping could be accelerated very easily as the basic technology
of ports and pipelines that ship crude oil can be quickly converted to
handle gasoline - particularly when considering the very limited
infrastructure of a port. Iran's northern port on the Caspian, Neka, for
example, can currently handle 300,000 bpd of crude. Even with a 50 percent
loss rate from a switchover, this one port could theoretically handle all of
Iran's import needs (and Neka also boasts the necessary road, rail and
pipeline infrastructure required to then distribute any imported gasoline
supplies to the rest of the country).
(click here to enlarge image)
The problem with Russia shipping gasoline to Iran is that Russia's northern
Caspian ports - Astrakhan and Makhachkala - are frozen over for more than
four months out of the year. Kazakhstan has been expanding its capacity to
ship crude and gasoline at Aktau, though Astana is not planning to fulfill
this particular supply request for political reasons.
The ports in Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, however, are equipped to ship
gasoline or crude to Iran. Azerbaijan's Baku port has a 301,200 bpd liquid
cargo capacity. In 1996, Baku sent 50,000 bpd to Neka when its gasoline
exports to Russia were cut off due to war in the Caucasus. The capacity at
Turkmenistan's Turkmenbashi port is unknown; it is only known that there is
Iran's port at Neka can handle 300,000 bpd of liquid cargo - more than
enough to fill the Iranians' demand for gasoline. Neka also has crude and
gasoline storage, though only for 45,000 barrels.
The Russian Dilemma
Russia and the former Soviet states are clearly able to fill in Iran's
gasoline needs should the United States successfully cut off supplies. But
Moscow is weighing the political decision on whether to do so very
carefully. The Russians have said continually that they feel the United
States' new push for sanctions would not be successful, though it is Russia
itself that would prevent that success. The new sanctions are designed to
pressure the companies involved in operating in Iran, supplying Iran with
gasoline or insuring those supplies, but with Russo-U.S. relations in
decline, Russia will weigh the benefits of successfully crushing U.S.
sanctions plans against the pain any U.S. economic pressure could create.
STRATFOR sources in the region have confirmed that Russia is taking this
issue very seriously. Currently it is unclear whether Azerbaijan would take
part in defying the sanctions since the United States has such a large
economic presence in the country. Azerbaijan does have energy swap deals in
place with Iran and has also made more plans to increase other energy
supplies, like oil and natural gas, to Iran. But Baku has not made a
decision yet on the specific issue of gasoline supplies, though STRATFOR
sources have indicated that Baku has at least been included in talks with
Moscow and Ashgabat.
Turkmenistan is the more likely player to create gasoline supply contracts
with Iran. Turkmenistan is still one of the most isolated countries in the
world, despite the government's proclaimed push to change that fact. The
United States has no real leverage it can use to force the country to not
supply its neighbor with gasoline. Moreover, Turkmenistan is in a financial
crunch because Russia stopped receiving energy supplies from the Central
Asian state, and Turkmenistan is looking for a new source of income. But
Moscow has ensured that it holds enough influence over Turkmenistan in the
realms of the military and social stability to keep Ashgabat from making
such a move without its consent. Russia wants to make sure that no other
country will usurp its ability to ruin U.S. sanctions.
Overall, the decision for any of these states to deliver gasoline to Iran
comes down to Moscow. Russia is using this threat in order to pressure the
United States into recognizing its sphere of influence. This trump card
could force the United States to act against Iran militarily, as all the
U.S. "diplomatic" efforts will by then have been exhausted. Then again, if
Russia plays this card, it could also force the United States to act more
aggressively against Russia, which will have proven its willingness to
support Iran through its actions, not just its rhetoric.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sanctions 1
on: September 25, 2009, 12:12:35 PM
Editor's Note:This introduces a three-part series on what sanctions against
Iran could mean for Iran, U.S.-Russian relations, Israel and the global
On Oct. 1, Iran will sit down for negotiations with six global powers - the
United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany. The
Western powers in the group are hoping that these talks will in some way
tame Iran's nuclear ambitions, but Iran, having already flouted a Sept. 24
deadline to negotiate, has thus far sent mixed signals on whether it will
even agree to discuss its nuclear program when it comes to the table.
This may seem like a familiar routine: the United States threatens
sanctions, Israel hints at military action, a deadline is set for Iran to
enter serious negotiations, Iran does its usual diplomatic song and dance,
another deadline passes and negotiations end in stalemate.
But whether the main stakeholders in the conflict realize it or not, things
could turn out very differently this time around.
U.S. President Barack Obama has made it clear that should the postponed
negotiations fail to produce any real results - and the Obama administration
has already conveyed that it doesn't have high hopes for the talks - then it
will have little choice but to impose "crippling sanctions" against Iran.
What makes the sanctions so "crippling" is the fact that the United States
already has a campaign under way to pressure major energy, shipping and
insurance firms to curtail their gasoline trade with Iran. Since Iran must
import at least one-third of its gasoline to meet its energy needs, such a
sanctions regime could have a devastating effect on the Iranian government
and (theoretically, at least) coerce Tehran into making real concessions on
its nuclear program.
No sanctions regime, however, is airtight - and this one is no exception.
Iran has a few limited contingency plans in place to prepare for a gasoline
deficit, but the real vulnerability in the sanctions comes from Russia. Iran
has become a major pressure point in Russia's ongoing geopolitical tussle
with the United States, and Moscow has signaled in a number of ways that it
isn't going to be shy about using its leverage with Tehran to turn the
screws on Washington. Moscow has a list of core demands that revolve around
the basic concept of the West respecting Russian influence in its former
Soviet periphery. As long as the United States continues to rebuff these
demands and write off Russia as a weak power, the Russians not only can
refuse to participate in sanctions but they can also blow the entire
sanctions regime apart. The more bogged down the United States is in the
Islamic world, after all, the more room Russia has to maneuver in the
The United States may have gained more room to maneuver with Russia
following a leaked announcement Sept. 16 regarding a complete revision of
U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) plans in Central Europe. The BMD
issue - which symbolizes a deep U.S. military footprint on Moscow's
doorstep - has long been a sticking point for Russia in dealing with the
United States. Russia remains unconvinced of Washington's apparent retreat
in Central Europe and has thus far refrained from changing its tune on Iran.
Instead, Russia has treated the BMD change in plans as part of a debt
Washington has owed since Russia agreed to provide the United States with
alternate transit rights for the war in Afghanistan. The atmosphere may now
be slightly more conducive for negotiations between Moscow and Washington,
but unless the United States makes a more concrete concession that
recognizes Russian hegemony in former Soviet territory, Russia will continue
to hold onto its Iran card.
Israel understands what Russia is capable of when it comes to Iran. From the
Israeli point of view, even if Iran is still years away from the bomb, a
potentially nuclear Iran poses a fundamental national security threat better
dealt with sooner rather than later - especially if Russia can prevent the
successful implementation of sanctions, and complicate any potential
military strikes against Iran by providing strategic air defense systems.
In other words, the Israelis have lost their patience with U.S.-Iranian
merry-go-round diplomacy. The Americans promised the Israelis crippling
sanctions against Iran, and if those sanctions don't happen or prove
ineffective, other options are likely to be explored that would necessarily
involve the skills and services of the U.S. military. Meanwhile, Iran -
whether faced with the threat of crippling sanctions or military strikes -
has the ability to wreak havoc on the global economy by going so far as to
mine the critical Strait of Hormuz, through which more than 40 percent of
seaborne globally traded oil passes. This is the "real" Iranian nuclear
option, if you will.
In this special series, STRATFOR examines in depth what a sanctions regime
could mean for Iran, U.S.-Russia relations, Israel and the global economy.
Part one will describe the nuts and bolts of an innovative U.S.-led
sanctions campaign and reveal the major energy firms, insurers and shippers
who are either already cutting back trade with Iran or are insulated enough
from the United States to pick up some of the slack for the Iranian regime.
Part two will discuss the array of options available for Russia to satisfy
Iran's gasoline needs and neutralize the sanctions. Russia can do so
directly by rail or sea, or it could enlist former Soviet surrogates like
Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, all of which have more than enough
spare capacity to cover Iran's gasoline needs but also varying political and
economic constraints to consider. Part three will focus on Iran's likely
response to these sanctions, including its contingency plans to reduce
gasoline consumption at home and its last-resort options designed to stave
off a military strike or retaliate against one.
Come Oct. 1, the world's major powers will be engaged in a high-stakes round
of diplomacy. Israeli patience is wearing thin, Russia is prodding
Washington with the Iran issue, and Iran is looking at its options of last
resort. This geopolitical panorama does not leave Washington with many
options, especially when a number of other issues are already competing for
the administration's attention. It does, however, have the potential to
break the Iranian nuclear impasse.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / AELE journal
on: September 25, 2009, 12:10:02 PM
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1. The August 2009 issue of the AELE Monthly Law Journal is online, with four new articles.
Persons interested in contributing an article should contact AELE.
* Public Protection: Injured Crime and Accident Victims
What are a police officer's legal obligations when encountering a member of the public who is an injured victim of a crime or accident?
View at http://www.aele.org/law/2009-08MLJ101.html
* Validity of Settlement Agreements Containing a "Will Not Reapply for Employment" Provision
If a settlement is successfully negotiated, management sometimes insists that the plaintiff resign and promise not to reapply.
Without such an agreement, if the person's subsequent reemployment application is denied, it will inevitably result in another lawsuit.
View at http://www.aele.org/law/2009-08MLJ201.html
* Transsexual Prisoners: Medical Care Issues
Issues raised in litigation have included requests for sex change surgery, requests for beginning or continuing hormone therapy, and what medical and psychological services are necessary and appropriate to provide.
Viewable at http://www.aele.org/law/2009-08MLJ301.html
* Civil Rights Liability for Intentional Violations of Miranda - Part Two: Criminal Admissibility
In 2003, the California Supreme Court held that a coerced confession is inadmissible for impeachment purposes in a criminal trial. In 2008, the Ninth Circuit concluded that a confession was coerced even though adequate Miranda warnings were given. By Michael P. Stone and Marc Berger. http://www.aele.org/law/2009-08MLJ501.html
2. The August issues of AELE's three periodicals have been uploaded.
The current issues, back issues since 2000, three 30+ year case digests, and a search engine are FREE. Everyone is welcome to read, print or download AELE publications without charge.
The main menu is at: http://www.aele.org/law
Among the 90 new cases summarized under 67 different topics, there are several that warrant mention here:
*** Law Enforcement Liability Reporter ***
Officers acted reasonably with respect to the force used while handcuffing an arrestee. While he contended that their actions had caused him shoulder injuries, the court noted that he refused to put his hands behind his back, and merely explained that he thought it would "hurt." He did not tell the officers about any purported infirmities or pre-existing injury that could be aggravated by handcuffing. Stainback v. Dixon, #08-3563, 2009 U.S. App. Lexis 14115 (7th Cir.). http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data2/circs/7th/083563p.pdf
* Stun Guns/Tasers
UCLA has entered into a $220,000 settlement in a lawsuit filed by a student who a campus police officer repeatedly shocked with a Taser after he refused to show his identification card upon request. The student, who is Iranian-American, argued that he was treated this way because of his Middle Eastern appearance. Tabatabainejad v. Univ. of Cal. L.A., #2:07-cv-00389, U.S. Dist. Court (C.D. Calif.). http://www.aele.org/law/2009all08/tabatabainejad.pdf
*** Fire and Police Personnel Reporter ***
* Disciplinary Punishment - Sexual Misconduct
In an appeal where an FBI agent was fired for videotaping sexual encounters with women without their consent, a federal appeals court remanded the case to the Merit Systems Protection Board for further adjudication. One judge wrote that he would have reversed the Board outright on the ground that the agency failed to establish a nexus between the charged conduct and the efficiency of the service.
The majority held that the Board failed to articulate a meaningful standard as to when private dishonesty rises to the level of misconduct that adversely affects the "efficiency of the service." The articulation of a meaningful standard is necessary particularly in light of the apparent conflict between the FBI's policy on investigating personal relationships and its policies requiring their agents to act with integrity and honesty. Doe v. DoJ, #2008-3139, 2009 U.S. App. Lexis 10031 (Fed. Cir.). http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/opinions/08-3139.pdf
*** Jail and Prisoner Law Bulletin ***
* Inmate Funds
The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that state prison officials can take money from inmate trust accounts to collect court fees owed and other costs without first notifying a prisoner. Due process was not violated, as the prisoners received "contemporaneous" notice of the withdrawal of the money, and the Constitution does not require pre-withdrawal notice. Harrell v. State of Texas, No. 07-0806, 2009 Tex. Lexis 321.http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=tx&vol=/sc/070806&invol=1
Report of the American Medical Association (AMA) Council on Science and Public Health on "Use of Tasers by Law Enforcement Agencies."
View at http://www.aele.org/law/2009all08/06-15-09_AMA_TASER_ECD_Resolution
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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor Intel Guidance
on: September 25, 2009, 11:45:39 AM
Intelligence Guidance (Special Edition): Sept. 25, 2009 - Iran's Nuclear Program
September 25, 2009 | 1326 GMT
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown leave the summit on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons during the U.N. General Assembly Sept. 24Editor’s Note: The following is an internal STRATFOR document produced to provide high-level guidance to our analysts. This document is not a forecast, but rather a series of guidelines for understanding and evaluating events, as well as suggestions on areas for focus.
Related Special Topic Pages
Special Coverage: The Global Summits (Fall 2009)
Iran’s revelation of a second enrichment site is not critical in a military sense. The West always knew the Iranians were playing a shell game. What it does do, however, is highlight that one of the challenges of the situation is simply that Western intelligence does not know how good its intelligence is — until it is used. So the Iranians are attempting a smoke-and-mirrors strategy in the hope of deterring an attack. But they also don’t know how much the West does or does not know either.
Far more important was the decision by the leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom and France to condemn Iran’s partial unveiling of this new site, and to demonstrate clearly that the time for talks is almost over. The round of talks beginning Oct. 1 has been portrayed by the Israelis as the final round. Now the United States is publicly saying the same thing, although Obama continues to say it prefers a peaceful settlement.
There are four issues we need to drill into:
First, will the Russians come on board with gasoline sanctions in this context or do they continue their opposition? We need to reassess the Russian mood and see what their lowest possible price is for assistance.
Second, we should start seeing some overt movements by the U.S. military to spook the Iranians. This will not be the typical watch for carriers moving toward the Gulf. Between forces participating in the Iraq and Afghan conflicts, the United States already has more than what it needs to attack Iran. Watch and evaluate activities in the region itself.
Third, are there any statements out of Israel? They have been forcing this issue to a head. A lack of statements from them is ominous.
Finally, Iran has the “use it or lose it” option with mines. If they feel attack is imminent, will they use the mines? The United States must act against the mines before anything else if this is not to cause a global recession on its own.
Bottom line: If the Iranians indicate that they will not cooperate and the Russians do not budge on their opposition to imposing sanctions, then war could come suddenly — and from the United States. All the pieces for that war are already in place. It is just a question of nerve — for all parties.