Monday, January 31, 2011

A Question

Why aren't liberal groups calling for President Obama to defend their notion of foreign policy realism by supporting Mubarak to the hilt?

But after ridiculing the Bush position of promoting freedom, the "good" position is now on the protesters' side (assuming that the Twittering Class that uses technology just like we do represent all the protesters).

Actually, I'd be happier if they applied the same standard to Iran. "Stability" is often just the quiet of a cemetery.

Check the Dice


This past Saturday, Potter fell about 1,000 feet after he lost his footing near the summit of Sgurr Choinnich Mor, a Scottish mountain. Potter didn't just survive the fall -- when rescuers found him, the adventurer was "standing up and reading a map."

Potter sure made his saving throw.

The Last Resort?

We tried to squelch chaos in Somalia until the Black Hawk Down incident. Ethiopia tried a few years ago. Somalis themselves at best have managed to create small enclaves of relative but fragile stability. The sainted international community is not interested in doing anything more that trying to contain the chaos.

You'd think that the failure of the acceptable sources of authority to organize Somalia would make other options seem less unacceptable. But that is not the case:

[The] government of Somalia is being urged to hire Saracen International, “a controversial South African mercenary firm,’’ to protect Somali officials and help fight pirates and Islamic militants. Erik Prince, the former US Navy SEAL who created Blackwater Worldwide, another private military firm, has been involved in brokering the arrangement. The story was headlined “Blackwater Founder Said to Back Mercenaries,’’ and its disapproving tone was hard to miss.

That negative publicity may have undone the deal. The Times subsequently reported that Somali authorities “have cooled to the idea’’ of hiring private militiamen. “We need help,’’ a government official was quoted as saying, “but we don’t want mercenaries.’’

Better to tolerate chaos, starvation, and murder than have the wrong sorts of people stop that sort of mayhem, apparently.

Safety Net

The Egyptian army won't shoot as long as the protesters stay within limits:

The army statement, aired on state TV, said the powerful military recognizes "the legitimacy of the people's demands" — the strongest sign yet that it is willing to let the protests continue and even grow as long as they remain peaceful, even if that leads to the fall of Mubarak.

The Egyptian army may say they side with the people and support their legitimate grievances against the government, but they are still holding the line against the people pusuing tactics too violent or expanding protests to threaten locations that they defend:

For days, army tanks and troops have surrounded Tahrir Square, keeping the protests confined but doing nothing to stop people from joining.

Military spokesman Ismail Etman said the military "has not and will not use force against the public" and underlined that "the freedom of peaceful expression is guaranteed for everyone."

He added the caveats, however, that protesters should not commit "any act that destabilizes security of the country" or damage property.

Despite the appearance of the army siding with the people, there are limits to what the army will do to support the people. And ultimately, with those limits set forth, the army--as long as it holds together--defends the regime even if it doesn't defend the status quo ante.

But with the public statements of siding with the people and limits on what the army will be called to do, the military increases the odds that the army will hold together and follow orders. Again, this defends the regime in some form.

Year of the Rabbit

Is there a big domino waiting to fall?

Pillar of the Regime

How on Earth does the Obama administration think it can reach out to Syria to "flip" them away from their alliance with Iran and hostility to Israel when Boy Assad believes it is his unswerving hostility to Israel that makes him immune to Egypt-style unrest?

In a rare interview, Bashar Assad was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as acknowledging that the toppling of Tunisia's longtime ruler and the protesters that have left Hosni Mubarak's government teetering in Egypt signaled a "new era" in the Middle East.

But he said Syria, which has gradually shed its socialist past in favor of the free market in recent years, was insulated from the upheaval because he understood his people's needs and has united them in common cause against Israel.

So the people of Syria have someone that they hate more than the oppressive Assad regime?

How convenient.

Syria prepares to wage war with Israel (however likely Syria would lose big), floods Syria with propaganda to inflame the people against Israel to deflect their unease with living in a poor and oppressive state, and the regime then makes sure it is hostile to Israel--understanding their need to hate Israel--to maintain that popular support.

At what point does our eager Obama policy of engaging Assad break that cycle? Isn't it yet another fool's errand to believe that if only we do enough that Syria will act nice when Syria's government openly relies on hostility to Israel (and indirectly America) to maintain power?

Look, I'd be more than happy to "flip" Syria. But it has to be on our terms--flip first and only then do we engage and provide help.

Still, Assad doesn't rule a stable state today any more than Mubarak ruled a stable state two weeks ago. Assad hopes he is immune to unrest, but he isn't.

UPDATE: Syrians unhappy with the regime call for a day of rage:

Syrians are organizing campaigns on Facebook and Twitter that call for a "day of rage" in Damascus this week, taking inspiration from Egypt and Tunisia in using social networking sites to rally their followers for sweeping political reforms.

Like Egypt and Tunisia, Syria suffers from corruption, poverty and unemployment. All three nations have seen subsidy cuts on staples like bread and oil. Syria's authoritarian president has resisted calls for political freedoms and jailed critics of his regime.

Will fear keep people away or will hope put them on the streets on February 4th? We know the government will give shoot-to-kill orders if they feel they have to. The question is whether security forces would obey that order.

Keep Him Out

I don't trust El Baradei. He ran interference for Iran's nuclear program when he headed the IAEA, as far as I could see. I worry that he might have a role in Egypt's future and what that mean for Iranian influence.

So it is nice to see that many Egyptians don't seem too fond of him:

ElBaradei and the powerful Muslim Brotherhood said on Sunday he had a mandate from opposition groups to make contact with the army and negotiate a government of national unity.

At least one opposition party, the Arab nationalist Karama Party of Hamdin Sabahi, has rejected ElBaradei outright as a transitional figure, saying he was trying to jump on the bandwagon of the popular uprising. ...

ElBaradei, 68, began overt opposition to Mubarak on his return to Egypt in February 2010 and won a widespread following among the young and the middle classes.

But the Egyptian authorities harassed his supporters and ElBaradei lost much credibility through his long absences abroad. The official media tried to ridicule him, saying he knew nothing about Egypt and had no political experience.

Some elements of the government's campaign appear to have stuck. "ElBaradei won't do. He doesn't have the experience here and he's a little weak," said Khaled Ezzat, 34, an information technology engineer who had joined the evening vigil in Tahrir Square.

ElBaradei does have a following, however, despite the main thrust of the article. Hoever, the young and the middle class who are said to back him are probably the least committed of the people on the streets, if by "young" in a country of youngsters that means the Twittering class.

Funny enough, many Egyptians think ElBaradei is too close to America!

Whatever. I don't care if Egyptians believe ElBaradei is George W. Bush in disguise as long as ElBaradei is kept out of power in Egypt.

Book 'Em, Danno

I wondered just why the Egyptian para-military police disappeared from the streets so early in the protests. Stratfor writes that the police pulled back to give the military what they wanted--the dominant role--to show them that they can't control the streets without the police. Indeed, the police contributed to some of the chaos to emphasize their point. Which certainly indicates that nobody on the police side felt the situation was so bad that they couldn't score bureaucratic points during the crisis.

Now, the two security forces have agreed to jointly take back the streets:

Egyptian military and internal security forces have coordinated a crackdown for the hours ahead in an effort to clear the streets of the demonstrators. The interior minister has meanwhile negotiated his stay for the time being, in spite of widespread expectations that he, seen by many Egyptians as the source of police brutality in the country, would be one of the first ministers that would have to be sacked in order to quell the demonstrations. Instead, both Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and al-Adly, the two main targets of ire for the demonstrators, seem to be betting that they can ride this crisis out and remain in power. So far, the military seems to be acquiescing to these decisions.

The real test for the opposition has thus arrived. In spite of a minor reshuffling of the Cabinet and the military reasserting its authority behind the scenes, Mubarak and al-Adly remain in power. The opposition is unified in its hatred against these individuals, yet divided on most everything else. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamist platform, for example, is very different from opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei’s secularist campaign, which explains why no one has been able to assume leadership of the demonstrations. In evaluating the situation on the streets, the regime appears willing to take a gamble that the opposition will not cohere into a meaningful threat and that an iron fist will succeed in putting down this uprising.

Within the next few hours, police and military officials are expected to redeploy in large numbers across major cities, with the CSF taking the first line of defense. Tensions are still running high between the internal security forces and the military, which could lead to serious clashes between the army and police on the streets. The size and scope of the protests appear to be dwindling into the low thousands, though there is still potential for the demonstrations to swell again after protesters rest themselves and wake up to the same government they have been trying to remove.

This is rather like the notion I put forth of the army (which has a better image than the police) holding the outer perimeter to limit the protest scope while the police do the dirty work of mixing it up with protesters and rioters to break them up. There was not coordination as I first speculated, but now there is.

And the protesters are dwindling in numbers, which also matches what I expected. The regime didn't panic at the initial surge and has survived the first crisis. That was the biggest unknown in my mind.

But if the people who took to the streets now see the army and police as united, will protesting fervor be revived? Will they be disheartened? I believe mass protests are scheduled for tomorrow. We shall see how the security forces hold together, whether the army can remain loyal in this unfamiliar internal security role, whether Mubarak wants to stay and gamble his troops, and whether the fragmented opposition holds together to keep pressing for Mubarak or the entire ruling class to get lost.

Who Wins?

Stratfor looks at Egypt's opposition:

[The] demonstrators are deeply divided among themselves and thus far do not appear to have been able to generate the type of mass movement that toppled the Shah of Iran’s regime in 1979. More important, the demonstrators are clearly united in opposing Mubarak as an individual, and to a large extent united in opposing the regime. Beyond that, there is a deep divide in the opposition.

Western media has read the uprising as a demand for Western-style liberal democracy. Many certainly are demanding that. What is not clear is that this is moving Egypt’s peasants, workers and merchant class to rise en masse. Their interests have far more to do with the state of the Egyptian economy than with the principles of liberal democracy. As in Iran in 2009, the democratic revolution, if focused on democrats, cannot triumph unless it generates broader support.

The other element in this uprising is the Muslim Brotherhood. The consensus of most observers is that the Muslim Brotherhood at this point is no longer a radical movement and is too weak to influence the revolution. This may be possible, but it is not obvious. The Muslim Brotherhood has many strands, many of which have been quiet under Mubarak’s repression. It is not clear who will emerge if Mubarak falls. It is certainly not clear that they are weaker than the democratic demonstrators. It is a mistake to confuse the Muslim Brotherhood’s caution with weakness.

It's easy to focus on the protesters who want freedom and democracy as the best case or the Islamists as the worst case, but I don't assume that either are the ones who would emerge at the top once the dust settles if they all topple the Mubarak government.

Strafor looks at the options and they seem about right, as does their best guess on the outcome:

If I were forced to choose, I would bet on the regime stabilizing itself and Mubarak leaving because of the relative weakness and division of the demonstrators. But that’s a guess and not a forecast.

But it is always easiest to predict the future based on past performance. I tend to agree that the government will basically hold since it already has endured a lot. And the fragmentation of the opposition leads me to guess that fear of chaos will make a lot of protesters happy to have sent Mubarak into exile and call it a victory. Bits of the regime break off (the Mubarak family, in particular) but the whole survives.

We should not, if this happens, sigh in relief and go on as if nothing happened. We must revive the Bush era policy of pushing Egypt for real reforms based on the scare of a lifetime that could in the short term make Egyptian elites more willing to actually reform. But that depends on the relatively happy outcome unfolding, and we really can't know what will happen.

Hu's Number One?

So China is the dominant country? Not even close. Despite the general unease over China's rise and the not uncommon belief that China has overtaken us economically, we remain the number one manufacturing country:

U.S. factories are closing. American manufacturing jobs are reappearing overseas. China's industrial might is growing each year.

And it might seem as if the United States doesn't make world-class goods as well as some other nations.

"There's no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products," President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union policy address last week.

Yet America remains by far the No. 1 manufacturing country. It out-produces No. 2 China by more than 40 percent. U.S. manufacturers cranked out nearly $1.7 trillion in goods in 2009, according to the United Nations.

The story of American factories essentially boils down to this: They've managed to make more goods with fewer workers.

No, we don't have acres of floor space occupied by recent peasants brought in from the countryside to make cheap plastic toys for the Western market, but we're still holding our own.

I mentioned this before. By all means, we should do better. But China's rise should motivate us to extend our lead and not curl up in the fetal position moaning about our poor future.

UPDATE: Someone gets it:

A vast amount of “stuff’’ is still made in the USA, albeit not the inexpensive consumer goods that fill the shelves in Target or Walgreens. American factories make fighter jets and air conditioners, automobiles and pharmaceuticals, industrial lathes and semiconductors. Not the sort of things on your weekly shopping list? Maybe not. But that doesn’t change economic reality. They may have “clos[ed] down the textile mill across the railroad tracks.’’ But America’s manufacturing glory is far from a thing of the past.

China will move up the manufacturing ladder and lose their own low-cost "stuff" factories to other countries. Hopefully we keep moving up, too, and retain our manufacturing edge.

Let's Talk Real Complications

As we watch Egypt convulsed in chaos and wonder if we can influence events to create a better Egypt rather than a worse one, let's be grateful that we didn't read this story about Egypt a couple months ago:

Pakistan's nuclear arsenal now totals more than 100 deployed weapons, a doubling of its stockpile over the past several years in one of the world's most unstable regions, according to estimates by nongovernment analysts.

Of course, who knows what we'll be reading about Pakistan in a couple months.

Have a nice day.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Potential Terrorist Caught?

I don't know what he thought he was going to accomplish, but I'm glad he was caught:

A 63-year-old Southern California man who had explosives in his vehicle was arrested outside one of the nation's largest mosques in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, authorities in Michigan said.

Mind you, he had lots of Class C fireworks including M-80s, so it isn't like he had military-grade explosives. But still, one has to doubt that he was there to set up celebratory fireworks.

We're lucky that darned few Moslem Americans want anything to do with the jihad that the nutjobs would like to spread here.

Shoring Up the Flank

Given that I think that China and India would have great difficulty achieving decisive results in a fight along their very difficult common border, it makes sense that India and China would compete for influence in Southeast Asia. Dominating that region would be key for either China to project naval power into the Indian Ocean and for India to project power into the South China Sea. Obviously, dominance would block the other, too. From India's point of view, I wrote:

In the long run, India needs to be able to project power into the South China Sea to make sure India can pose a threat to interrupt China's trade.

For that, India also needs a diplomatic offensive to gain the friendship of Thailand, Malyasia, Indonesia,Vietnam, the Philippines, and Taiwan. Alliance with America, Japan, South Korea, and Australia wouldn't hurt, of course.

So I imagine we could expect more of this:

In a sign of the new significance that India is attaching to its ties with Southeast Asia, India hosted Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at its Republic Day celebrations this year.

Each side will have intense interest in waging a cold war for the allegiance of the region's states.

UPDATE: I forgot about an earlier post where I noted that India has gained access to Vietnamese ports.

Shield or Sword?

It is still unclear to me why the Egyptian government pulled back their police. It was way too soon, I assume, for the police to waver in their loyalty. They're used to this. It is almost as if the army--more trusted by the angry people--are being used to shield the government by holding a perimeter that preserves the government and gives the people limited room and time to protest, and perhaps dissipate their intensity of anger. Once the opposition shows signs of splintering and less committed protesters begin to worry about the chaos itself as worse than the Mubarak regime, the police would have more leeway to start a counter-attack to reclaim the public streets. But the army has to remain as a shield for that to work. If the army can't hold together and hold the line, it will become a sword that pierces the heart of the government. And what emerges after that is anybody's guess.

The most committed protesters want Mubarak gone and don't care about the consequences. But a lot of Egyptians don't feel that way. Yes, they want Mubarak gone, but they may fear what could happen if the radicals win. These more moderate protesters may believe that a reformed, Mubarak-less government dominated by the more trusted military is good enough.

Right now, the government is holding and the army is intact. Talks within the Egyptian establishment are taking place that may result in a new government that is good enough for enough people to make the threat of radical revolution wane:

President Hosni Mubarak, clinging to power despite unprecedented demands for an end to his 30-year rule, met on Sunday with the powerful military which is widely seen as holding the key to Egypt's future.

Mubarak held talks with Vice President Omar Suleiman, whose appointment on Saturday has possibly set the scene for a transition in power, Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Chief of Staff Sami al-Anan and other senior commanders.

An earthquake of unrest is shaking Mubarak's authoritarian grip on power and the high command's support is vital as other pillars of his ruling apparatus crumble, analysts said.

Egyptians faced lawlessness on their streets on Sunday with security forces and ordinary people trying to stop looters after five days of popular protest.

People hate the government as it is, but fear chaos. Can the government walk that tightrope and survive in some form?

If we're lucky, they can. I worry about the worst even though I can hope that the uprising leads to real chances for freedom for Egyptians. But if we do get that lucky, we need to take this crisis to heart, realize we dodged a bullet, and push Egypt for real reforms that lead to real democracy and rule of law, and which combat the corruption that fuels popular anger. That could lead to a better life for Egyptians and remove the possibility that Iran can exploit this crisis.

UPDATE: The police are starting to reappear and the air force made a show of force over Cairo:

Minutes before the start of a 4 p.m. curfew, at least two jets made multiple passes over downtown, including a central square where thousands of Egyptians were calling for the departure of President Hosni Mubarak.

Police could be seen returning to some streets nearly two days after they virtually disappeared, creating a security vacuum only partially filled by the presence of army troops backed by tanks at key sites around this city of 18 million people.

Have deals been made? Are the protests running out of steam?

The Iranian Shadow

Never forget that Iran looms over the crisis in Egypt. And it has nothing to do with whether Iran engineered this uprising.

The uprising in Egypt is bad enough that jails are being attacked, with a bunch of Islamists released in the process:

Gangs of armed men attacked at least four jails across Egypt before dawn Sunday, helping to free hundreds of Muslim militants and thousands of other inmates as police vanished from the streets of Cairo and other cities.

The escape of Moslem Brotherhood members highlights the problem looming in the background of this crisis that raises the stakes enormously: Iran.

If a pro-Iranian regime emerges in Egypt rather than a more moderate regime based on either the existing ruling class (without the Mubaraks) or the military (a subset of that, but with a better image), war in the Middle East becomes more likely. The Egyptian military isn't up to the task of defeating the Israeli army, as I noted earlier. And the Israelis have the benefit of learning from their air-centric debacle in the 2006 Hezbollah War, which taught them that they really did need an effective army in the age of precision air power.

A post I wrote nearly four years ago about our relations with Pakistan pretty much applies to Egypt. We couldn't push Pakistan too much for reform because we needed Pakistan too much for the fight in Afghanistan. We did navigate the transition from a military dictator to a democratic (if corrupt and ineffective) government. But we continue our high wire act there. As I wrote close to five years ago and which I linked to in that post about Pakistan applies to Egypt:

One of the benefits of overthrowing the mullah regime in Iran and replacing it with a government that reflects the pro-American sentiment of the people of Iran will be the land corridor it will open to Afghanistan.

Now, our access to Afghanistan is from the north through the unstable "Stans" and back through an increasingly unfriendly Russia; or through Pakistan which we have to coddle to keep land-locked Afghanistan from being cut off from us.

Open up a supply route through Iran to Afghanistan and suddenly we don't need to be quite so reliant on our Central Asian bases or so careful with a Pakistan that will not crack down on the Taliban who hide and organize inside Pakistan. We won't have to be so shy when it comes to hunting bin Laden there, either.

It's not about a supply route, of course. Although that is important, we could adapt to that loss. It is about Iran and our freedom of action in Egypt and more generally in the broader Middle East.

A hostile Iran makes anything we do in regard to Pakistan a higher stakes game. Similarly, a hostile Iran makes anything we do in regard to Egypt a higher stakes game. Support pro-freedom demonstrators in Egypt (even if the protesters don't know what exactly they want or how to get it) and we risk the pro-Iran elements using that mass of angry people to leverage a takeover. Support the Mubarak regime out of fear of the Iranian influence and we risk angering the Egyptian people who hate living under the autocratic rule of Mubarak.

We need Egypt to not fight Israel or be a factor for our enemies, and for access to the Middle East further east through the Suez and air corridors. So foreign policy realism reigns supreme in our dealings with Egypt despite the efforts post 9/11 through 2005 to push Arab allies for reforms. Yes, we had a pro-American government in Cairo for decades, but now we don't know what will happen. And we feel constrained in what we do in response to the chaos in Egypt.

We fear the worst if Egypt turns against us because an anti-American Egypt won't be an isolated country that we could contain and try to work with. Egypt could link up with the anti-American coalition that Iran inspires, supports, and sort of leads--Syria, Hezbollah (now controlling the Lebanese government), Hamas in Gaza, and the Sadrists in Iraq (although I don't fear Iran could take over Iraq, if we draw down our visible support for Iraq's government and rule of law, who knows what could happen), as well as radical elements in other Arab states as we see in Egypt.

One of these days, we'll realize that Iran under the mullahs is our biggest enemy in the Middle East. They cast a dark shadow over every problem, much as the Soviet Union did in the Cold War. We can't reach out an open hand to the mullahs. We can't persuade them not to become a nuclear power. We can only decide to defeat them or continue to see every crisis in the Middle East as a potential catastrophe if Iran manages to take advantage of the situation.

Just imagine if all we had to worry about in our decisions about Egypt was what happens to Egyptians?

Living By the IED

Once again, a reminder that while the IED (or any mine) is a frustrating and tense experience for our troops to deal with, it is not an effective tactic to defeat our side in Afghanistan. The Taliban are starting to notice this:

The Taliban believed that the roadside bomb (IED, or Improvised Explosive Device) was the key to victory in Afghanistan, and a wonder weapon that would succeed where other ideas had failed. This is unlikely, but this is what Taliban commanders have been telling their subordinates for the last few years. As a result, the ineffectiveness of the bombs last year is believed to be a major blow to Taliban morale.

The Taliban learned the strategy of relying on the IED without having the resources (money, explosives, and skilled bomb makers) to replicate what the Iraqi insurgents could, and without learning the lesson that even the better Sunni Arab (and Shia Sadrist) insurgents could not defeat us with that strategy. Live by the IED. Die by the IED.

On the other hand, lower casualties in the short run for the Taliban was a heavy inducement to try that approach since taking on our forces (mostly US and other Western forces, but increasingly Afghan army troops, too) in direct combat was really bad for personal survival. And the casualties the indiscriminate use of bombs inflicted on civilians was noticed by Afghans, too, who didn't much like the Taliban because of that.

Which is a lesson to us as well. Don't pursue tactics or strategies that lower our casualties in the short run at the expense of winning the war by alienating the Afghan people. Yes, I worry a lot.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Moving In

Stratfor writes that the army is moving in to take over the Egyptian government. The army, they say, has replaced the paramilitary police on the streets rather than supplementing them:

Now that the political structure of the state is crumbling, the army must directly shoulder the responsibility of security and contain the unrest on the streets. This will not be easy, especially given the historical animosity between the military and the police in Egypt. For now, the demonstrators view the military as an ally, and therefore (whether consciously or not) are facilitating a de facto military takeover of the state. But one misfire in the demonstrations, and a bloodbath in the streets could quickly foil the military’s plans and give way to a scenario that groups like the MB quickly could exploit. Here again, we question the military’s tolerance for Mubarak as long as he is the source fueling the demonstrations

Considerable strain is building on the only force within the country that stands between order and chaos as radical forces rise. The standing theory is that the military, as the guarantor of the state, will manage the current crisis. But the military is not a monolithic entity. It cannot shake its history, and thus cannot dismiss the threat of a colonel’s coup in this shaky transition.
There are a number of questions they pose.

--Can the senior officers of the army ease Mubarak out before an incident on the streets compels the army to crack down, thus forfeiting the good will of the people?

--Will mid-level officers see an opportunity to move up and take control?

--Will the Islamist Moslem Brotherhood make a play for power, possibly breaking the unity and discipline of the army by successfully appealing to the lower ranks who likely have portions sympathetic to the Moslem Brotherhood?

I'll ask if the government is truly paving the way for a military takeover on the assumption that the government's paramilitary police can't suppress the unrest? It seems rather early for the government to be calling it quits. Doesn't it make more sense for the government to be regrouping the police behind the shield of the more trusted army while hoping that the initial fury of the protesters will wane without police to confront?

I also question the idea that the protesters will accept a military takeover if that is the plan. Wouldn't that just put the army in the dangerous position of directly confronting protesters that I wondered if they could endure? won't that just make the army the new Mubarak to be opposed? Would protesters really believe that the army would pave the way for honest elections? Why would the army necessarily defuse the public anger?

Stratfor asks good questions, no doubt. And as professionals I have to give them some room to run on their analysis. But I often find I disagree with their analysis of events even if their facts seem impeccable. I guess I wished they asked more questions.

UPDATE: A good article on the balancing act the army is carrying out:

On Saturday, protesters jubilantly climbed atop army tanks and armored personnel carriers enforcing security in Cairo. They hugged and kissed the soldiers and posed for photographs with them. Some spray-painted the military vehicles with slogans demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

In Tahrir Square in the center of the city, protesters hoisted an army officer waving an Egyptian flag on their shoulders and chanted "The people and the army are one hand together!"

The protests drove Mubarak to appoint intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as vice president on Saturday, clearly setting up a succession that would hand power to his close confidant, a former army general, and keep control of Egypt in the hands of military men.

There were signs that the move could exhaust demonstrators' affection for the military — many protesters said the appointment was cronyism and the government needed purging from the top.

"If he is appointed by Mubarak, then he is just one more member of the gang," 43-year-old teacher Rafaat Mubarak, no relation to the president, said in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria. "We are not speaking about a branch in a tree, we are talking about the roots."

I don't assume the military is acting for itself rather than for the Mubarak regime.

When Enough is Enough

A reminder from Tunisia that protesters are a varied lot and some are more satisfied than others with some progress and may have reasons to accept limited progress that other protesters don't have:

Armed with wooden sticks, knives and stones, shopkeepers fought back against a small group of hardcore protesters who tried to storm the capital's tree-lined Bourguiba Avenue, scene of dozens of protests during Tunisia's "Jasmine Revolution."

"We want stability. We have a transitional government now... We are against chaos. These people want everything to change in a day," Ahmed Oueslati, who owns a nearby haberdashery shop.

"We're nearly bankrupt. They stopped all our business," said Oueslati, who chased down protesters with a metal pole.
We shall see if Egyptian protesters start to fracture as they get tired, scared, or are satisfied with limited reforms that fall short of immediate regime change. The Egyptian government doesn't have to defeat or satisfly all the protesters to survive this crisis--just enough of them. As long as they do it before the security forces can fracture, of course. There's that possibility, too.

Be Careful What They Wish For

Islamists in Jordan welcome the spread of unrest, believing it will topple pro-American rulers, and Iran believes it inspired Egyptians by their 1978 overthrow of the shah, which will prompt Islamist regimes across the Middle East. But while the odds of pro-American governments falling are simply reflecting the odds of so many regimes friendly to us, the nutballs shouldn't be so sure that the anti-American rulers won't be counted among the victims when the dust settles:

Iran's opposition leader expressed hope Saturday that protests engulfing Egypt can bring the kind of change that has so far evaded his own country.

Mir Hossein Mousavi compared the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen with the protest movement that followed the 2009 disputed presidential election in Iran.

Sure, you can count the anti-American Middle East Moslem dictatorial governments as Lebanon (with Hezbollah now in charge), Syria, Gaza, Iran, and Libya (Khadaffi is scared--not friendly--despite giving up his WMD programs to us), so they are less likely to provide a victim of the unrest than the far larger number of pro-American dictators, but they won't be immune to the unrest. They just may have an advantage in having more troops willing to shoot at civilians. Which counts for a lot, of course.

And don't forget the relative rock of the Middle East that nobody is talking about as vulnerable to the wave of unrest--Iraq. As a democracy, Iraq has what the rest of the Middle East Moslem world says it wants. I just thought I'd mention that.

UPDATE: Doh. Toss in Sudan as an Arab state that is not our friend, to say the least, that could go if dominos really start falling.

It's Complicated

Robert Kaplan warns our policy makers that current and future revolts in the Arab world will be complicated because they are all different:

Right now all these uprisings look somewhat the same, as they did in Eastern Europe in 1989. But like in Eastern Europe, each country will end up a bit differently, with politics reflecting its particular constituency and state of institutional and educational development. Poland and Hungary had relatively easy paths to capitalism and democracy; Romania and Bulgaria were sunk in abject poverty for years; Albania suffered occasional bouts of anarchy; and Yugoslavia descended into civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of people. The Arab world is in some ways more diverse than Eastern Europe, and we should therefore heed the uniqueness of each country's political and historical situation in calibrating U.S. policy.

Indeed it is complicated. A week ago, Kaplan said Tunisia was so unique that no other Arab country was likely to follow suit.

Not to mock, but it is complicated. Which is why all I'll claim to do is guess about outcomes. And it is why I have sympathy for the Obama administration trying to navigate this eruption.

Holding the Line?

I get the impression that Egyptian army troops are being used to defend important locations, freeing the police to confront protesters. If so, it makes it less likely that the army will face a tough decision of whether to join or suppress the people. Defending important buildings or locations is a much more palatable mission even for troops who sympathize with the grievances of the people.

The people show no signs of backing down.

But the government shows no sign of breaking and running. Yes, the government is offering concessions that may lead to actual free-ish elections. But so far the government seems like it has not lost its nerve. The police, despite occasional reports of one joining with the protesters, still seem like they are confronting protesters on the streets.

It all depends on the security forces now, I think. Do the police continue to fight the protesters? Does the army continue to backstop the police by holding static positions, thus freeing up police for counter-demonstraton work?

If the protesters don't lose steam and start to drift away and go home, the pressures on the para-military security forces and army could build until some start to crack and desert or defect. Does that start dominos falling or do the remainder hold firm? Or the pressure of constant protests and riots could lead the rulers to order the security forces to use massive force, and then the question is whether the officers issue orders to shoot and whether the troops obey those orders.

If I had to guess, I'd say that the government will survive the current crisis but that the Mubarak clan is finished after this year. There are reports that Mubarak's family has fled Egypt. Whether any change will then lead to real democracy rather than another elite taking over to share the few goodies is another question altogether.

But then again, I have no real way to know. I'm just guessing.

UPDATE: Ah, a new vice president--named a key player by a VOA article I noted here--is named:

Mubarak named his intelligence chief and close confidant Omar Suleiman, state television reported. ...

Suleiman has been in charge of some of Egypt's most sensitive foreign policy issues, including the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and inter-Palestinian divisions.

He'd be more likely to keep the security forces' senior officers loyal. And perhaps the protesters would consider the departure of the Mubaraks to be enough to stand down and wait and see whether September elections look to be free enough.

UPDATE: The army views itself as more than a regime-protection outfit. It identifies with the people as well. So the Egyptian government would be wise to not use the army for more than passive protection of locations to hold the perimeter while the police do the ugly work of suppressing the protests.

UPDATE: A mission the army can perform:

The Egyptian army secured Cairo's famed antiquities museum early Saturday, protecting thousands of priceless artifacts, including the gold mask of King Tutankhamun, from looters.

This is defending Egypt's heritage rather than the government yet also limits the extent of protester violence. This helps the government yet doesn't stress the loyalty of the army.

Are There Any Dominos in Europe?

This article about gang wars involving Pakistani immigrants in Denmark--while not related-reminds me that I haven't read anything about the reactions of Moslem enclaves in Europe to the wave of unrest in the Arab world.

We've seen unrest in these enclaves before. Why wouldn't the swelling anger in the Arab world not find fertile ground in Western Europe, where there are grievances aplenty to cite as reasons to riot and set cars on fire?

Not that these would be revolts that could take control. But it could add to the environment (complete with lots of television and Internet /cell phone footage) of unrest that could fuel what is going on in the Arab world.

It's Like They Know Nothing

So, a short article quoting an Italian officer comparing the situation in Afghanistan to 1942 World War II--a time when the tide was shifting for the Allies despite the hard fighting that lay ahead. All fine, as a broad comparison.

And then.

And then the idiocy that I've come to expect from the vast majority of our press corps. The Vietnam comparison:

Di Paola rejected, though, any comparison with Vietnam in 1975, when US-trained Vietnamese soldiers were overrun by communist guerrillas.

So what genius suggested that comparison?

It's only been 36 years since the fall of South Vietnam. You'd think that someone in AFP would know that communist guerrillas were defeated by US and South Vietnamese forces before we withdrew. You'd think that someone might know that South Vietnam was actually overrun by a North Vietnamese conventional army spearheaded by tanks and other armor, and supported by heavy artillery.

But no, the article asks the question of whether Vietnam is the correct historical analogy for Afghanistan rather than World War II. On that question--and it is completely separate from the question of winning or losing, I suppose--no, Vietnam does not provide a good analogy to Afghanistan.

Lord, when they try even a little military analysis beyond reporting on events, they (with few exceptions) just don't have a clue.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Plan B?

So have we been working with the opposition in Egypt  to ensure free elections this year (tip to Instapundit)?

The US government has previously been a supporter of Mr Mubarak’s regime. But the leaked documents show the extent to which America was offering support to pro-democracy activists in Egypt while publicly praising Mr Mubarak as an important ally in the Middle East.

In a secret diplomatic dispatch, sent on December 30 2008, Margaret Scobey, the US Ambassador to Cairo, recorded that opposition groups had allegedly drawn up secret plans for “regime change” to take place before elections, scheduled for September this year.

Well that's interesting. And from WikiLeaks, too. Given the problems we could have with a free country (or even just a new set of despots), having information out there that we offered support to dissidents could help us in the future.

I'm half seriously starting to wonder if Assange and WikiLeaks aren't an elaborate CIA operation.

Reporting For Doodie

Incomprehensibly, Senator John Kerry (D.- Who Served in Vietnam) thinks people care about his opinion on Egypt. He said:

In the case of Egypt, President Mubarak has the opportunity to quell the unrest by guaranteeing that a free and open democratic process will be in place when the time comes to choose the country's next leader later this year.

The senator's call for democracy promotion in Egypt was tempered by his staff's warning that reporters should carefully review the footnotes to the statement. One, should the struggle drag on and not result in a happy, Vermont-style democracy complete with spirited bike path debates, then the senator reserves his right to claim we were lied into supporting effective regime change. Impeachment proceedings for the president who called for free and open democratic process, under those circumstances, would clearly be in order to combat such a sign of disturbing NeoCon influence in the administration that insisted that there were Warnings of Mediavel Despotism in Egypt.

Should things turn out badly, the intern added, the senator will be the first to call for Congressional hearings on the matter of the missing WMD. Further, a blue ribbon commission might want to suggest ways that Egypt could be split into three separate entities to minimize chances of further violence.

But other than those posterior-covering caveats, Senator Kerry remains firmly committed to regime change and democracy promotion in Egypt.

I honestly value Pauly Shore's opinion of events in Egypt more than Kerry's.

Silent and Unseen Service?

Aircraft carriers--and any other big and expensive ship--should worry.

This would be pretty revolutionary if it can be successfully applied to real submarines:

Scientists at the University of Illinois in the United States have developed and successfully demonstrated a sonic cloak that could make submarines completely invisible to sonar.

Whoa. That appears to apply to active and passive means of detecting submarines based on sound.

That doesn't mean that there aren't other means that could be used that don't rely on sound. It wouldn't affect devices that could detect the uplifting of water that a submarine displaces, for example. But I didn't think that was more than a theoretical weakness of subs.

If submarines can truly be made invisible to sound detection systems, how can anything that floats on the surface survive?

Surrendering a Little Bit

President Mubarak is throwing some of his cabinet under the bus to see if that can satisfy enough of the demonstrators to make the unrest more manageable:

Egypt's embattled President Hosni Mubarak said early Saturday that he had asked his Cabinet to resign, and promised reforms in his first response to protesters who have mounted the biggest challenge ever to his 30-year rule.

Death-bed conversions to the good life aren't always credible, of course. But it doesn't have to be credible to everyone--just to enough people who will declare victory and go home, leaving the smaller number of more determined protesters too weak to overcome the security forces.

That Wasn't Democracy

In the debate over promoting democracy in the Arab world, it frustrates me when people raise the issue of the Hamas takeover of Gaza after they won an election as proof that democracy can lead to bad things in the Arab world, and so shouldn't be encouraged. This statement is typical:

The [Israeli] minister, who spoke on condition of not being identified by name or portfolio, cites the Gaza Strip as a signal warning of the risk that comes with asking the people what they want. The seaside territory, home to some 1.5 million Palestinians, elected the militant Islamist group Hamas in a 2006 election that had been carried out at the urging of George W. Bush, when the President was casting the invasion of Iraq as a mission to introduce democracy to the Middle East.

That is not an example to prove that democracy can be bad because of the simple reason that the Gaza experience was not democracy. Having one shot at one election to elect one party that will assume it won for good is not democracy--it is a popular plesbiscite on who will be the next dictatorial elite.

Democracy is a system of ongoing elections in an equally important system of rule of law. If Gazans had another chance to judge whether the Hamas government's focus on killing Jews is really the best policy, maybe Hamas would lose. And if not, maybe the next election would be their undoing. But we didn't have democracy in Gaza. We have a Hamas autocracy put in place by a plurality of Gazan votes.

And recall that the alternative is the stability of a tyrant, How's that stability looking in the Arab world these days? And even if stability is restored, what price to the people who live in that stability pay?

Getting What They Wanted

The Egyptian crisis highlights contradictions in our new, post-Bush policy in the Arab world, with an introduction courtesy of another unsurprising WikiLeak:

The U.S. ambassador in Cairo warned Washington to be less confrontational in its dealings with Egypt, toning down human rights pressure to avoid jeopardizing relations with the Middle East ally, dozens of U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks Friday showed. ...

The cables show that Egypt's human rights record remained a constant sticking point in relations between Washington and Cairo, threatening ties that have improved since President Barack Obama came to power.
Give me strength.

President Obama's backers clamored for foreign policy "realism" rather than the Bush-era democracy agenda. Obviously, relations with the Egyptian government improved once an administration clearly committed to government-to-government relations entered office.

So yes, calling for lowered talk on human rights was exactly what the new administration promised and what their supporters expected.

Which will work just fine, I suppose, if the Mubarak regime endures this bout of violence. Depending on whether Mubarak doesn't mind our comments about restraint.

But if the people in the streets win, we will face the dilemma of negotiating our way forward with people who saw us retreat from supporting basic human rights in favor of foreign policy realism. At that point, we'd best hope that our diplomats are very agile and that three decades of training Egypt's military pays off with their good will toward us that cushions and anger that we weren't obviously in the dissidents' corner during this crisis.

This diplomatic minefield will be made more difficult by President Obama's Cairo speech. Even though the context made it clear that under the Obama administration we weren't going to lift a finger to help democrats in the Arab world (can't go "imposing" anything alien to the locals, eh?), what if Egyptians heard these words differently:

I know -- I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other.

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere. (Applause.)

Now, there is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments -- provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they're out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. (Applause.) So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power: You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

So here we have Egyptians rising up--without our military "imposing" democracy--just as our president told them is the ideal. Democracy is good--it's just our role that "taints" the whole thing. So our president rejected the "NeoCon" agenda without rejecting their goal. Call President Obama a SortaCon, I guess.

I hope that the Cairo speech was soon forgotten by the Egyptian people. Otherwise, we might have some explaining to do.

Ah, isn't "restoring" our reputation abroad easy?

UPDATE: Let me clarify something. I hope the Obama administration can maneuver through this difficult crisis. My point is that foreign policy isn't easy, and requires many compromises with our ideals as well as pursuit of our ideals. The simplistic notion of many that being the "anti-Bush" was the key to foreign policy Nirvana is clearly shown to be false by the last month's events in the Arab world, with the Egypt Crisis dramatically driving that point home.

Right now we are cutting off some reviewing our (updated based on new information) aid to Egypt, I hear. We're trying not to alienate either side and I'm not sure whether we can be sort of for both sides. In a perfect world, we get along with whoever wins and can push whoever wins toward real democracy.

"Stability" isn't always what it is cracked up to be--nor as stable as it appears.

UPDATE: One more thing about the difficulty of playing both sides. I hope our intelligence is quickly being analyzed to figure out what is going on in the streets of Egypt. If this is clearly a Moslem Brotherhood led uprising, we should go all in to support the Mubarak regime, at the price of pushing them for immediate, real, and visible reforms once the streets are cleared. If we think the Mubarak regime is going to topple, we should be more clearly on the side of democracy. Playing both sides is best but I don't know if we have the capability of doing so. I wish the Bush agenda of pushing Egypt toward reform and real democracy hadn't been derailed (in fairness to President Obama, this began in the second term of the Bush administration--under intense pressure from the "realists" mind you, but he did change course). Perhaps even slow but real progress forward would have eased some of the pressure that has just exploded.

Wish the Obama administration luck on this. It is too late to wonder what might have been had we acted differently the last 5 years. We have what we have.

We all have a stake in coming out on the winning side. I won't pretend to know who that will be. Good luck, Mr. President. Forget solar panel subsidy issues. This is why you get paid the big bucks.

UPDATE: The Egyptian government placed its bets on a military not terribly good at combat but loyal because of its favored position. The people on the streets called that bet. We'll see who has the high cards.

An Age of Revolution?

Are we in an age of revolution in the Arab world? Autocracies have a lot of power to resist calls for change by their people. We don't yet know if Tunisia itself can transition to real democracy let alone whether it is the lead country in a wave of change. But we do know that there is desire among many Arabs for change.

Whether or not George W. Bush had anything to do with this era, he had a lot to say about what should arise in this revolutionary age--real democracy. Islamists want the end of the autocracies to install their own form of religious-based dictatorships (and ideally, one grand one to rule all Moslems). Bush wanted democracy to replace the autocracies. Despite initial steps in the Obama administration to reject democracy promotion as tainted by Bush, and establish foreign policy realism where we cut deals with whatever autocrats promise to provide stability, the atmosphere in the Arab world may not allow us to make the choice.

You'd think the Obama administration would argue that it is uniquely qualified (outreach, middle name, not Bush) to promote democracy as the result of this revolutionary fervor (whether or not it is true). As I wrote this last summer, we don't necessarily have the luxury of choosing whether there is revolution. Our choice may just be to try to exert our influence to make sure that democracy and not Islamism is the alternative to the current autocracies. Helping Iraq defend its own fledgling democracy would be a good start to show all Arabs that we stand with true reformers in the Arab world even when evil forces try to undermine progress toward democracy.

Then again, the Obama administration bet that Iran could withstand the 2009 Green movement. In the short run, Arab autocrats will likely withstand this latest wave. But who knows what will happen, even if it has no practical effect on the next 2-6 years of the Obama presidency? Even just some success now in overturning another dictator could give hope to other Arabs who endure their regimes, and play out years or decades in the future.

But if the autocrats win in the end in the short run, remember that even though the Obama administration won its bet that Iran's rulers would endure, the second part of that bet was that we could come to an agreement with those rulers over Iran's nuclear program. That hasn't worked out, has it?

Still, it does amuse me that when historical eras are defined by decades or centuries, so many on the left are so quick to deny that there is any linkage between the cries for democracy in the Arab world and the Bush administration that promoted a freedom agenda because two whole years have passed since he was in office. We may not be in an Age of Revolution in the Arab world. But I'm not willing to say whether it is or not yet.

UPDATE: Well, Egypt has enough unrest to look like a revolution in progress:

Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters poured into the streets of Egypt Friday, stoning and confronting police who fired back with rubber bullets and tear gas in the most violent and chaotic scenes yet in the challenge to President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule. Even a Nobel Peace laureate was soaked by water cannon and forced to take refuge in a mosque.

Internet and cell phone services have been cut as well, although the extent is unclear.

But the security forces are battling the protesters, and not folding. We shall see if the government's leaders and troops stay loyal in enough numbers to hold the line.

If Egypt, the leading state in the Arab world succumbs to this unrest, I think we can officially say a trend is beginning.

UPDATE: Some police have switched sides:

An Associated Press reporter saw the protesters cheering the police who joined them and hoisting them on their shoulders in one of the many dramatic and chaotic scenes across Egypt on Friday.

How many? Enough to make a difference? Remember that in the spring 2004 dual Sunni Arab-Sadrist uprising in Iraq, perhaps half of the new Iraqi government's security forces collapsed in the shock of the event. Yet the remaining half and foreign security forces (mostly ours) were enough to absorb the blow and go on to win.

Egyptian military forces also deployed, according to the article. If security forces remain loyal, the sound and fury of the events will mean nothing in the end. If the security forces break? Well, we'd best be pro-active to help the democracy component of the protesters so the Islamist portion doesn't emerge on top.

UPDATE: Voice of America lists key actors:

President Hosni Mubarak: The president-for-life.

Mohamed El Baradei: Nobel Peace Prize winner, diplomat, former head of IAEA, and vocal critic of Mr. Mubarak and his government.

Minister Omar Suleiman: The head of Egyptian intelligence and a close ally of President Mubarak considered a possible successor to Mubarak.

Ayman Nour: Political dissident who founded the Al Ghad or “tomorrow” party, ran in the 2005 election, and was later jailed on corruption charges.

Muslim Brotherhood: The aforementioned Islamists.

These are at least interesting times.

UPDATE: Remembering that President Bush offered the revolutionary idea that Arabs wanted and deserved freedom. Yet he's condemned by the left for that. I think they hated Bush all the more for that because it highlighted the so-called "progressive" left's failure to believe Arabs had the human desire to live free.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Holding the Door Open

There is increasing discussion about the problem our Navy will face in penetrating China's growing anti-access capabilities to operate in the western Pacific. As I noted earlier, we need Japan to act as a screen to enable our forces to move into the region in the face of growing Chinese military capabilities:

Japan equipped with [the F-35] will be better able to hold the door open in the face of Chinese attacks so that our reinforcements can flow into the western Pacific region if we are called on to fulfill our treaty obligations to allies in the region.

This article discusses the situation for Japan and explains that Japan doesn't really need to coordinate too much with America to enable our AirSea Battle-grounded Pacific strategy for pushing forces into the western Pacific:

The policy of Japan's Defense Ministry is in line with the view espoused by Gates. The policy focus of Japan is in the following three areas: ballistic missile defense, anti-submarine warfare and a hardening of bases against possible attacks.

The Defense Ministry does not believe it is effective or necessary to design an artificial bridge over the conceptual gap between the strategic plans of two countries, because as Japan makes progress on these three focus areas, Tokyo automatically can meet the expectations of the United States.

Exactly. If Japan can defend their air and sea space from China's air and naval power, and keep their ports and air bases operational in the face of Chinese missiles, Japan will enable our forces to arrive to fight at their side.

The Nation's Lampooned China Vacation

The White House still doesn't think that the Lang Lang Affair was an insult to America. So let's roll the secret video of the State Dinner for President Hu of China:

After two years (tip to Instapundit), it is still amateur hour over there:

The Chinese delegation was clearly delighted: Chinese President and Communist Party chief Hu Jintao, stone-faced for many of his other photo ops in Washington, beamed with pleasure upon hearing the melody and embraced Lang Lang at the song’s conclusion (see it on YouTube too). President Obama, for his part, amiably praised Lang Lang for his performance and described the event as "an extraordinary evening."

Obviously, we don't speak Chinese.


It's end times, people.

The Obama administration is channeling Thomas Friedman's thoughts.

Excuse me. Blogging may be light for the rest of the day as I stock up on canned goods and ammunition.

And Emetrol. Lots of Emetrol.

The Cedar Devolution

Well, Lebanon is screwed. The Hezbollah-led coalition government seems to be holding:

The billionaire chosen by Hezbollah to become prime minister of Lebanon told the U.S. ambassador Thursday that he is committed to having good ties with Washington.

Najib Mikati met with U.S. Ambassador Maura Connelly days after Washington warned that the formation of a government dominated by the Iran-backed militant group would mean changes in relations with Lebanon.

The 55-year-old telecom tycoon "confirmed during the meeting the importance of bilateral relations between Beirut and Washington," he said in a statement as he began the process of forming a new government.

The Shiite group and its allies toppled Lebanon's Western-backed government two weeks ago and secured enough support in parliament to name Mikati as their pick for prime minister Tuesday.

Opponents of Hezbollah — which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization — say having an Iranian proxy at the helm of Lebanon's government would be disastrous and lead to international isolation.

I'm sure our new, nuanced, outreach-enabled diplomacy will ignore the fact that terrorists run Lebanon and continue our aid to the government. That's how we roll these days, it seems. If we don't care that Syria is an Iranian puppet regime, why should we care that Lebanon is, too?

But I'm sure that Iran would do nothing evil with their influence over Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza, right? I mean, we extended an open hand to Iran. Surely, that's got to count for something.

Just Too Stupid to Believe

Is our government seriously telling the Syrian government that we'd like better relations?

The first U.S. ambassador to Syria in more than five years said Thursday Washington is committed to improving the two countries' relationship after years of tension.

Robert Ford said after presenting his credentials to President Bashar Assad that his posting is "proof that we are committed to try and solve the problems between our governments." ...

The Obama administration had argued that returning an ambassador to Syria after a five-year absence would help persuade Syria to change its policies regarding Israel, Lebanon, Iraq and support for extremist groups. Syria is designated a "state sponsor of terrorism" by the State Department.

How stupid are we? Seriously. How stupid are we to believe that Syria can be persuaded to be nice? Will they stop being Iran's deadly poodle? Will they stop trying to kill Iraqis and American troops in Iraq? Will they stop trying to destabilize Lebanon? Will they stop just being an oppressive dictatorship internally?

No they won't. So our desire for better relations immediately rules out the Syrians changing their behavior. I guarantee that the entire program of "solving the problems between our governments" will be for America to quietly accept that Syria will continue to act against us and kill our people--and we'll say nothing and shovel money at them. How's that for outreach?

Syria's regime knows what they have to do to get better relations. We should work day and night to isolate and undermine the Assad regime until Syria changes their behavior before we even think of having better relations.

Another Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier

Establishing a barrier of land-based air power that can survive Chinese aerial assaults and help screen the approach of our fleet to carry out missions in the western Pacific is vital to supporting our allies in the region.

Japan can serve in this role in the north.

Taiwan is the obvious candidate for the center. And if this is correct, we will help Taiwan to restore their air strength:

Raymond Burghardt, chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, said that China's "habit" of breaking off military ties following arms deals was not a factor behind the lack of U.S. approval of Taiwan's long-standing request for advanced F-16 C/D fighter jets.

"All good things come in their own time," Burghardt told reporters at a briefing during a visit to Taipei.

Well it's about time, is all I can say. This will nicely anchor a corridor through the central Pacific to support allies in an arc from the Philippines to South Korea and Japan. And note that this is a self-reinforcing cycle. The better we can help our allies in the shadow of China, the more likely they are to be willing to help us operate in that shadow.

That still leaves the southern anchor of a screen to be set up if we want to support Southeast Asia friends. Australia can function as a rear area but can't be a screen. The Philippines or bases in southern Vietnam would work. We shall see if that is in the works.

I suspect the Philippines are so weak and so close to China that they will be too wary to really pick up that role despite the former US bases there that would seem to be ideal. Vietnam, on the other hand, has the motive to resist China by seeking foreign help. Who knows, maybe we'll return to our old bases built in South Vietnam back in the day.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Recognizing South Korea

President Obama very publicly backed South Korea in the face of North Korea's hostility:

"On the Korean peninsula, we stand with our ally South Korea, and insist that North Korea keeps its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons," Obama said in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.

Recognizing South Korea's importance to us sends a message to the Pillsbury Nuke Boy.

The two Koreas will meet soon:

The two Koreas will meet at the border truce village of Panmunjom on February 11 for preliminary military talks to discuss last year's two deadly attacks against the South's Cheonan warship and the island of Yeonpyeong.

Of course, that bilateral meeting may be the most significant recognition. North Korea has long refused direct meetings with South Korea in order to emphasize Pyongyang's position that South Korea isn't a real country. They'd talk to us--for enough money--as it we were the true rulers of South Korea. No more, I guess.

Maybe the most relevant recognition is the North Korea realization that they are in a world of hurt and maintaining the fiction of a non-sovereign South Korea is a luxury they can no longer afford.

I Just Can't Be Kept Happy, I Guess

Counter-insurgency is a blend of killing the enemy but doing it with minimum firepower to avoid angering the locals by making the counter-insurgent's violence less legitimate than the insurgents' use of violence. Controlling the population--by defending them if friendly or just getting them to cooperate and refuse to help the insurgents if not friendly--and not body counts of the enemy is more important.

Instpundit reports on an email from Michael Yon about Afghanistan:

US Marines are waging death and destruction on the Taliban in a way the Taliban are not used to. Average patrol finds 1 IED and kills 1 Taliban and they are going night and day.

From my distant view, I can never be sure if we are using the right level of violence (and to be honest, I don't even know what that level should be at any given time). Too little and we can't protect or control the people because the enemy is too strong. Let me quote a passage from A Better War about Vietnam that I used in this post:

George Jacobson, an "old hand" who altogether served eighteen years in Vietnam and was a mainstay of the pacification program in these later years, often observed that "there's no question that pacification is either 90 percent or 10 percent security, depending on which expert you talk to. But there isn't any expert that will doubt that it's the first 10 percent or the first 90 percent. You just can't conduct pacification in the face of an NVA division."

Too much security effort, on the other hand, and we can seem worse than the enemy and provoke the people to support the enemy and not our side.

I worry because Afghans seem far more sensitive to our use of firepower than the Iraqis ever were during the height of the fight there. In the end, I trust General Petraeus can handle this delicate balance and that this waging of death and destruction is just the first percent of our effort that sets the stage for the non-kinetics that are the true main effort of any counter-insurgency campaign.

But I'll remain worried.

Chinese Naval Aviation

China's developing fleet is making it far more important for our Navy to develop the ability to work closely with our Air Force to defeat China's navy and air force.

Aviation Week writes about China's medium-term carrier plans:

A plausible near-term projection for China’s aircraft carrier ambitions was revealed in two 2009 articles in Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper, which featured rare access to Chinese military and shipbuilding sources. The sources noted that China would first build two non-nuclear medium-sized carriers similar to the 50,000-ton ex-Soviet/Ukrainian Project 1143.5 carrier Varyag being rebuilt in Dalian Harbor. These carriers would start initial construction in 2009. Beginning in 2020 or soon after, two 60,000-plus-ton nuclear-powered carriers would follow, based on plans for the Soviet-designed but never built Project 1143.7 Ulyanovsk class.

This would mean a likely fleet of five carriers by the 2020s, including Varyag, which entered a phase of accelerated reconstruction in 2009.

It is unclear if the Chinese will follow the Russian tendency to backstop the offensive power of the planes with carriers equipped with long-range surface-to-surface missiles.

The Chinese are also buildling escorts for their carriers.

These will be very nice show-the-flag ships for the Indian Ocean circuit, for combat missions in Southeast Asia against small neighbors in pursuit of Peking's territorial ambitions, and as speed bumps deployed in the way of American naval forces attempting to come to the rescue of Taiwan should China decide to resolve that core interest by invading Taiwan.

Our Navy definitely needs to beef up reliance on shore-based air power (either the Navy's or the Air Force's) to assist our fleet's efforts to push through China's developing anti-access line in order to carry out missions close to China. AirSea Battle may not be anything new, but our Navy had the luxury of going it alone regarding China because China for decades lacked the capability of projecting power much beyond the range of shore-based artillery. That is changing and now we need to put into practice old practices of sea- and land-based air power to defeat a potential enemy.

Running to the Front of the Parade?

Jordan feels the Tunisian earthquake:

"Abdullah II insisted on the need to move forward with clear and transparent programmes of political and economic reform, which will allow the kingdom to overcome the economic challenges, and assure Jordan and Jordanians the decent future they deserve," the royal palace cited the king as saying in a meeting.

"The king underlined the need for senators and all officials to be in constant contact with the people in all provinces of the kingdom to hear their grievances and open a completely frank dialogue with them on their ambitions, their interests and the issues of the day," it added.

It's always best to run with the crowd determined to do some hanging rather than run from the crowd marching closer, eh?

I still have no idea if Tunisia is the leading wave of a political tsunami in the Arab world, but a lot of Arabs sure want it to be.

Look to the Future With Confidence

I don't understand why people are so worked up about our supposed ongoing decline.

In 1939, we were the biggest economy but otherwise just one of many great powers given no particular deference given our generally weak military. We had the unusual advantage of being the only power in 1946 that didn't have their economy crippled by the just concluded World War II, and we were the only great power that counted.

By the 1970s, our coasting on that dominance came to an end as the rest of the world recovered from that wound, and we felt doomed. But in the 1980s we restored our confidence and by the end of the decade our main foe the Soviet Union began to unravel. And again, we were the last one standing, making our dominance more exaggerated than it would have been otherwise.

So now as other countries grow faster than our mature economy does, people are looking for us to decline again. But unless you want to argue that we need to disintegrate our rivals as happened in 1944-45 and 1989-1991, why get so worked up about it? We won't decline unless we decide to fulfill that prophecy. And we sure won't decline relative to other powers to our position of 1939. We have many advantages that sustain our power, as this article argues:

America’s moment of unipolarity has been based on a singular fact: the United States is the first leading state in modern international history with decisive preponderance in all the underlying components of power: economy, military, technology, and geopolitics. All of its competitors face internal and external security challenges that are as or more serious than America’s own. Japan faces not only economic and demographic challenges, but also a rising China and a de facto nuclear-armed failing state, North Korea. India has domestic violence, insurgencies in bordering countries, and a persistent security dilemma in the form of China. Demographic challenges will be particularly acute for Europe, Japan, and Russia in the areas of military manpower and economic growth. China, India, Brazil, and Russia all suffer from significant regional disparities that have led, or could lead, to social unrest and political instability. Europe faces the challenge of incorporating the new members of the EU into its institutional structures against a backdrop of a major economic slump.

The United States, by contrast, has several underappreciated sources of national power and continued advantage. As Samuel P. Huntington has noted, U.S. power “flows from its structural position in world politics . . . geographically distant from most major areas of world conflict” as well as from “being involved in a historically uniquely diversified network of alliances.”

Natural resources are another area of advantage for the United States. Agriculture has been “a bastion of American competitiveness,” and America’s farmers and producers have never been more efficient or productive than they are today. The media may have lavished a great deal of attention on U.S. dependence on imported oil—a true strategic liability—but they have neglected its abundant coal and gas resources. In fact, the United States (combined with Canada) trails only the Middle East in the overall wealth of its energy resources.

There are other factors that could help the United States navigate the period ahead. One of them is openness to innovation, which can play an important role in extending the United States’ leading role in the world. Some scholars believe, in fact, that failure to maintain system leadership in sectors that power long waves of economic activity and growth is a key cause of decline. Another factor that may propel the United States to a more rapid recovery is the so-called “American creed,” which includes skepticism about the role of the state in the economy and a veneration of the private sector, which indeed does produce the entrepreneurs and innovators capable of prolonging America’s leading sector primacy in the international economy.

Demographics, too, make continued U.S. economic leadership around the world more likely. American fertility rates are among the highest in the developed world and have virtually reached replacement levels. With a growing population that will be more youthful than those of other developed countries (or China), the United States appears to be in a favorable position for the future.

None of these advantages, however, including the United States’ unchallenged military capacity, mean that America is destined to remain the preponderant power in the world. Without a concerted effort by the United States, the international system could move in the direction of nonpolarity or apolarity, with no nation clearly playing a leading role in trying to organize the international system. The result would be a vacuum of leadership and an inability to manage the plethora of contemporary global problems like terrorism, nuclear proliferation, ethnic and sectarians wars, humanitarian disasters, crime, narcotics trafficking, pandemic disease, global climate change, and so forth.

I quote at length to hit the biggest themes defending our position, but there is much more. So go read it all.

We will continue to be the power with the most available military power for projection around the globe; and even if China surpasses us in GDP at some point in the future, their shortfall in per capita GDP will continue and make that broad measure of power less significant than it would be if they matched us in that latter measure of depth of economic power. As long as we have the will to demonstrate leadership, we can still dominate a world where we remain immune to direct conventional military threat to our homeland and every other major power either needs us or has reason to worry about us if we take sides against them.

Here's my take on the world of 2040. We have to build our future, so some anxiety about competition is healthy; but don't take cries of doom as predictions rather than challenges to use our assets better.

Buck up, Americans. Most countries would trade their problems for ours in a heart beat.

Huge? Oh, Please

A "monster" was cornered in California:

The 5-foot Monitor lizard wandering around a condo complex in the city of Riverside was way bigger than animal control officer Jenny Selter could have imagined.

"She said she saw it and almost jumped back in her truck," said John Welsh, spokesman for Riverside County Animal Services. "The residents were freaking out because here's the Godzilla-like creature walking down the sidewalk."

That's not a monster.

This is a monster:

Our Asian economic competitors will eat us alive if we get all worked up over mini-monsters that can be handled by a county animal control officer and a local police officer.

Republic Day

Oh, and via Instapundit, today is India's Republic Day.

So cheers to readers in India!

I'll Drink to This!

You know, when Facebook doesn't remind me of a date, I can just lose track. Thankfully, Mad Minerva did not forget. So happy Australia Day to my readers down under.

If I understand Australia's rule on the matter, you're not drunk until you throw up on your shoes.

They Learned Nothing and Forgot Nothing

[I just found this. It should have posted back on September 8th. But the mystery bug in Blogger that sometimes takes scheduled posts and turns them into drafts kicked in. I didn't notice that it failed to post. What a loss for the world, eh? What the heck, it is a timeless subject.]

Wow, the New York Times outdid itself in stupidity with their editorial on the formal end of Operation Iraqi Freedom. They cannot forgive President Bush for leading us to victory in that war, remembering every error and inflating it to a crime, showing they remain ignorant of the chaos of war that defies planning for every contingency, and have forgotten the history that led us to war.

If you are determined to view our war effort as a defeat as the Times is, it is clearly possible to interpret the war as a series of crimes and blunders. But we really have won the war, and it was possible to see the trends as I did at the time and looking back after the surge broke Sunni Arab resistance, with a tip to Strategypage (which updates their piece here), in this post.

I don't mind people being defeatists. That's their right. But a decent grasp of the facts would make it less of a reflex action and more of a choice, don't you think? But having gotten away with reading the Vietnam War wrong all these decades, why should the defeatists choose analysis?

A Tactical 'Reset?'

How reset are our relations with Russia if they still believe that the 1990s represent a period of unrelenting Western hostility towards Russia designed to finish off a weakened Russia?

In reality these assertions about the 1990s are not so much about what actually happened - not about the past but the present and maybe the future. It is hard to escape the suspicion that they are an effort to create an alternative historical reality that justifies a more authoritarian line of politics at home and an antiwestern foreign policy abroad. This wouldn't be the first time in Russian history that the enemy at the gate was invoked in order to justify the iron fist. Does it matter? Can we not just leave this debate to historians and get on with it? With a slight thaw in the air in relations between Russia and the west, shouldn't we look forward and not backwards? Well, it does matter. So long as Moscow rewrites this history to demonise the west, one must wonder if it is now honestly interested in cooperating with us. Perhaps we will know that the Kremlin is getting serious about opening up to the west when this fictitious account of the 1990s stops becoming official history and starts to be replaced with a more accurate and nuanced narrative.

Don't hold your breath waiting for Russian paranoia and opportunistic demonization of the West to end any time soon. I think it is an effort of tremendous optimism to assume that this Russian view of the West is deliberately used for other devious purposes, but that the Russian rulers actually understand that the harsh view of the 1990s is a distortion. I think Russia's rulers sincerely believe the line that they are peddling. It is natural for Westerners to think that Russia's rulers couldn't possibly actually believe that crud, but that is really the simplest explanation rather than rationalizing an argument that they think like us.

So don't become confused and believe that concessions to Russia, like New START, have any effect on Russia's views of the West. They believe what they believe, and facts be damned. Any lessening of tensions is a tactical reset by Moscow to get more from the West while they can get it.

Not to worry, however. The real threat to Russia will eventually deprive the Russians of their fantasy-based fiction of their victimhood at the hands of the West. Then there may be a real strategic reset with the West.

Of course, by the time it is obvious to even the most paranoid NATO-focused Russian that they've been ignoring the real threat of China, nobody in NATO will want to let Russia join NATO and push the alliance's front line all the way to the Amur River. Shoot, a lot weren't all that happy about pushing it east of the Elbe.