October 28, 2005

Change your ways, or no WTO, US warns Vietnam (Aaron Glantz and Ngoc Nguyen, 10/29/05, Asia Times)

Vietnam’s attempts to enter the World Trade Organization (WTO) have been blocked by what the country’s negotiators say are unacceptable new demands by Washington that the socialist country change the way its economy works – more than it already has. […]

For the past 15 years, Vietnam has been changing the way it does business, though perhaps not to the extent Washington would like to see it.

It has embraced market economy, attracted factory jobs from overseas, and towering new buildings have sprung up in the capital and in Ho Chi Minh City. In 2002, foreign investors poured more than US$1.2 billion into Vietnam, and the country seems all set to enter the world’s official club of capitalist nations.

Yet, the administration of US President George W Bush has been pressuring Vietnam to eliminate subsidies and state-owned enterprises. Talks with negotiators from Washington have broken down over what Vietnam maintains are “new conditions” introduced in recent rounds of talks. […]

In April, Oxfam released a report entitled “Do as I Say, Not as I Do: The Unfair Terms for Vietnam’s Entry to the WTO”, which noted that Vietnam is being forced to cut tariffs and subsidies twice as much as neighbors such as Thailand, the Philippines and Nepal. Those countries are already members of the world body.

“For any country, joining the WTO is like jumping into a fast-moving river in the dark without a paddle,” said Steve Price-Thomas, Oxfam’s spokesman in Hanoi. “It’s hard to know for sure what will happen but the important thing is if you jump into a fast-moving river at night you want to make sure you’ve got a life belt, a flashlight, know which way you’re headed, that there’s no rocks, etc. So we hope that Vietnam is ready and prepared for life in the club of the WTO.”

Want to be treated like a democratic ally? Become one.


October 28, 2005

Japan, US closer in step (Hisane Masaki, 10/29/05, Asia Times)

Japan and the United States on Saturday will sign an historic mutual-security agreement that, among other provisions, will allow for the first time an American nuclear-powered navy vessel to be based in a Japanese port.

The deal, which will be signed in Washington during a meeting of the two countries’ defense and foreign ministers, will also include a strategy for overall realignment of US forces in Japan.

Earlier in the week, Tokyo and Washington struck a deal on the long-running dispute over the relocation of a key American air station in the southern Japanese island state of Okinawa, removing the biggest obstacle to the realignment agreement.

About to make the normal pedantic comment about the new Axis of Good being more important than NATO, the thought occurred: When’s the last time you even heard NATO mentioned?

The central alliance of the 20th Century is now an afterthought.


October 28, 2005

Polish leaders side with hardline eurosceptics (Andrew Rettman, 10/27/05, EUOBSERVER)

Events in Poland have taken a dramatic turn, with the Law and Justice party voting together with hard-line eurosceptics in parliament, endangering the chances of a coalition government and provoking a sharp fall in the zloty.

“A populist-nationalist coalition is forming, the goal of which is to change the treaties agreed with the European Union”, Civic Platform leader Donald Tusk told Gazeta Wyborcza in the heat of Thursday (26 October) night. […]

Law and Justice party chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski ruled out the possibility of a coalition with Self-Defence and the League of Polish Families however, saying “In this parliament the only possibilities are a coalition with Civic Platform or a minority government”. […]

Meanwhile, the markets gave their own commentary, with the zloty falling steeply against the euro and investors selling Polish shares on the Warsaw stock exchange.

“The market reaction is due to the uncertain political direction of the new government and how relations will develop with the EU and Russia”, Credit Suisse analyst Sven Schubert told EUobserver.

Law and Justice is “less market friendly” he added, pushing to delay euro entry and boost welfare spending, while slowing privatisation.

It would probably be wiser to use Civic Platform to drive an economic reaction to seventy years of socialism, before settling down to a Third Way model.


October 27, 2005

Chirac threatens to veto world trade deal (Sophie Louet and William Schomberg, 10/27/05, Reuters)

French President Jacques Chirac warned Europe’s leaders on Thursday he would torpedo a global trade deal if EU negotiators made further sacrifices in farm protection measures to keep the talks alive.

A day before Brussels tries to revive negotiations by putting a revised farm offer to key trading nations, Chirac told EU leaders Paris was prepared to exercise its veto right to block the required unanimous European approval of any agreement.

Chirac told a news conference he had made clear at a summit that France reserved the right not to approve any agreement that went beyond a 2003 reform of Europe’s agricultural spending.

“It’s out of the question for us to take any further step,” he said. “It’s a red line of what would be acceptable for us.”

Why not just drop France from the deal and let them subsidize the whole world’s truffle consumption, or whatever they grow there?


October 27, 2005

From Baghdad to Beirut, Arab Leaders Being Held to Account (Michael Rubin, October 27, 2005, The Forward)

Long home to farfetched conspiracy theories and a political culture of victimization, the Arab world is now being swept by a new emphasis on accountability. While commentators and pundits debate the merits, drawbacks and sincerity of the Bush administration’s drive for democracy, events across the Middle East suggest that the relationship between rulers and the governed has been significantly transformed.

The shift was evident on October 19, when former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and seven high-ranking lieutenants shuffled into a Baghdad court room to face charges that they ordered a massacre of 143 Iraqi civilians following a 1982 assassination attempt against the Iraqi leader. The proceedings were broadcast in Iraq on television channels like Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, and Arabic newspapers throughout the region splashed photos of the Iraqi dictator sitting submissively in the dock across their front pages. […]

A willingness to hold leaders to account, such as we are now witnessing in Iraq, is becoming increasingly more common in the Arab world. Against the backdrop of Saddam’s trial, U.N. special investigator Detlev Mehlis submitted the findings of his inquiry into the February 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. […]

[A]cross the region Arabs appear to welcome it. Indeed, it was the groundswell of Lebanese–and Saudi–revulsion at Hariri’s assassination that spurred the U.N. Security Council to create a special investigatory commission.

The Lebanese Cabinet endorsed Mehlis’s findings even though he also implicated the top four security chiefs of pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud. Lebanon’s parliament, just a year ago little more than a Syrian rubber stamp, moved to hold Lahoud to account. “The president must resign,” prominent parliamentarian Butros Harb declared. “There is a big gulf between MPs and Lahoud.” It remains unclear how far Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution will go, but there is no doubt that Lebanese and Syrian officials now realize their actions are not without consequence.

And the wave of accountability is spreading. Yasser Arafat’s death last year sparked renewed Palestinian attention to Palestinian Authority corruption. The new administration allowed Issam Abu Issa, the former chairman of the Palestine International Bank who exposed how Arafat siphoned off millions in aid money, to return from exile in Qatar.

This past April, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ordered the P.A.’s prosecutor-general to investigate a former top Arafat aide and three senior Finance Ministry officials on embezzlement charges. While such corruption was commonplace within the P.A. throughout the Arafat era, the public mood had changed. The Palestinian public is no longer willing to stomach the worst excesses of its leadership.

Across the Middle East, Arab regimes are coming to realize that they no longer can act with impunity against their own citizens. The Syrian and Libyan governments may, for example, control state media, but plights of dissidents such as Aktham Naisse and Fathi el-Jahmi spread on the Internet and on satellite television.

It wasn’t supposed to be this easy.


October 27, 2005

Sacrificing the Baath to Rescue Syria (Hazem Saghieh, 10/27/05, Al-Hayat)

The Baathists have driven Syria to a place where the only possible salvation is by sacrificing the Baath, even gradually, to rescue Syria. Sacrificing the Baath party means establishing a limit to the policies of military and security tyranny against the Syrian people. Regarding the “tutelage” in Lebanon, crowned by the assassination of PM Hariri, it is the “logical” conclusion of the internal structure that generates crisis, stemming from the difference between the possible and the declared, and export them abroad with the same generosity of their birth.

The comparison between that “State” – which Mehlis’ report highlighted, though by hints, some of its operational ways – and its slacken imperial tendencies, suffices to reveal the deep cause of the current Syrian disaster and the nature of the ideological- military regime as an ongoing crises-producing regime.

Today, the truth has become clear, leaving no place to manipulate reality. The sacrifice of the Baath has become synonym to rescuing Syria. However, giving an account of such a reality worsens the problem more than it solves it: it is true that the recent “Damascus declaration” offered a positive promise and reflected the maturity of the Syrian opposition, somewhat limiting the historical pessimism. Nevertheless, it is a beginning, just a beginning, on the path of sacrificing the Baath. The biggest impediment on that path – if not its pitfalls – is the response of the Syrian civil community with its various regions, sects and communities; especially that the regime, as indicated by all its experiences, will not draw back one step to loosen its rock-hard grip. However, one thing can be confirmed: what some Syrian opposition members and Lebanese politicians previously hoped for; it is that the Syrian people will be spared any punishment. Such an option, whether western or international, lacks justice, as much as it is useless: it would complete the Baathist task of torturing its people and would prolong twice the path of rescue, multiplying the possibilities of chaos, which everybody fears.

Given that estimates put Iraqi dead at just 30,000 since we began the process of regime change as opposed to the 500,000 children alone we killed via the sanctions that enriched Ba’athists, it seems impossible to make a moral case for latter instead of the former.


October 27, 2005

Spy Agencies Told to ‘Bolster the Growth of Democracy’ (DOUGLAS JEHL, 10/27/05, NY Times)

A new strategy document issued Wednesday by the Bush administration ranks efforts to “bolster the growth of democracy” among the three top missions for American intelligence agencies.

John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, said the rankings were intended to align the work of intelligence agencies with the administration’s broader national security goals. The top two “mission objectives” are efforts to counter terrorism and weapons proliferation. […]

Among other things, the strategy says that “collectors, analysts and operators” within the 15 American intelligence agencies should seek to “forge relationships with new and incipient democracies” in order to help “strengthen the rule of law and ward off threats to representative government.” The strategy, published on, is unclassified, and the officials said it was not intended to apply in any way to any covert action that might be undertaken by the United States.

You’d have to fire everyone in the intelligence and diplomatic services get the institutions to reverse courses like this–which is exactly what they should do.


October 27, 2005

U.N. to Detail Kickbacks Paid for Iraq’s Oil (WARREN HOGE, 10/27/05, NY Times)

More than 4,500 companies took part in the United Nations oil-for-food program and more than half of them paid illegal surcharges and kickbacks to Saddam Hussein, according to the independent committee investigating the program.

The country with the most companies involved in the program was Russia, followed by France, the committee says in a report to be released Thursday. The inquiry was led by Paul A. Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. […]

Mr. Hussein received $1.8 billion in illicit income from surcharges and kickbacks on the sales of oil and humanitarian goods during 1996-2003, when the program ran, the committee concluded in its last report in September.

Earlier Volcker committee reports summarizing the year and a half of inquiries have examined the activities of the United Nations, finding the institution’s management inept and corrupt, and providing evidence that the program’s former director, Benon V. Sevan, received kickbacks himself. He has denied any wrongdoing.

The $64 billion program was set up by the Security Council to help ease the effects of United Nations sanctions on the 27 million Iraqis by supplying food and medicines in exchange for letting the Hussein government export oil.

The investigators said Thursday’s report would detail how Mr. Hussein first steered the program to gain political advantage with political allies and countries in a position to ease the United Nations sanctions. Both Russia and France are veto-bearing members of the Security Council.

“Then it got corrupted with a capital C when Saddam figured out how to make money off of it by putting on the surcharges and kickbacks,” one investigator said.

At first, he said, companies balked at paying the extra fees, and the oil sales slowed. At that point, “less orthodox companies” came forward and accepted the terms, opening the way for the program’s full scale exploitation and allowing legitimate companies to buy oil from illegitimate ones.

Another investigator noted that in the years immediately preceding the program, smuggling of Iraqi oil in much larger amounts had been going on for years to the benefit of the economies of American allies, including Jordan and Turkey. In his last report, Mr. Volcker said this smuggling amounted to $10.99 billion.

This investigator suggested that this had a compromising effect on the Security Council’s willingness to step in and stop the practice. “Three years, four years already, letting the oil flow into Jordan and Turkey, so now you’re going to be very strict about this smaller volume of oil?” he asked. “Unlikely.”


October 27, 2005

What we can learn from Norwegians (Daniel Hannan, 27/10/2005, Daily Telegraph)

Today, Norway’s king will take his leave of Britain’s queen. Both are monarchs, but only one is sovereign. The word “sovereignty” is often used nowadays as a loose synonym for power, but it has an exact meaning. In Norway, the 1814 constitution vests supreme authority in the Crown. In Britain, the 1972 European Communities Act shares sovereignty with the EU, which now accounts – depending on how you measure it – for between 50 and 80 per cent of our laws.

Sovereignty evidently suits the Norwegians. They are the richest people in Europe, with a GDP per head of £31,200, as against an EU average of £12,600. According to the UN, which measures infant mortality, literacy rates and so on, they are the healthiest and happiest people in the world.

We are forever being told that Britain is too small to survive on its own: a post-imperial state, a speck of land on Europe’s fringe, blah blah. This is bilge, of course: we are the world’s fourth largest economy and fourth military power. But it is instructive to consider the situation of a country that really is small, and really is on Europe’s fringe.

There are four-and-a-half million Norwegians, clinging to an icy strip of tundra on the uttermost edge of the continent. Yet, on every measure, they are outperforming their continental neighbours. At a time when France and Germany are struggling to comply with the Stability Pact, Norway is running an annual surplus of seven per cent. Its unemployment is less than half the EU’s. Its real interest rates are comfortably below those in the euro-zone. Its inflation is low, its trade booming, its stock exchange soaring.

A people two generations away from subsistence farming have become Europe’s new elite. Like blue-eyed sheiks, they buy vast houses in Chelsea which lie empty between their occasional visits to London (Norwegians, in the main, being tremendous Anglophiles).

How have they done it? Much of the answer has to do with the deal they struck with Brussels. Norway is a member, not of the EU, but of its penumbra, the European Free Trade Association (Efta). It participates fully in the so-called Four Freedoms of the European single market-free movement, that is, of goods, services, people and capital. But it is outside the Common Agricultural Policy; it controls its own territorial resources, including energy and fisheries; it decides its own human rights questions; it determines who may settle on its territory; it can negotiate free trade accords with third countries, and it makes only a token contribution to the EU budget.

Trade everything freely but your own sovereignty.

In Norway, EU pros and cons (the cons still win) (Ivar Ekman, 10/27/05, International Herald Tribune)

Jens Stoltenberg, the recently installed leftist prime minister of Norway, believes that his country should join the European Union. So do some of his rivals on the right. Even the often euroskeptical populists today say they are neutral.

So why is this increasingly wealthy North European nation remaining outside the fold at a time of broadening European integration? […]

At present, 54 percent of Norwegians oppose membership, according to a poll published Monday in the newspaper Aftenposten. Their opinion, analysts say, is intimately linked to the broad feeling here that oil-rich, high-growth Norway does not need an economically stumbling European club.

Projections show gross domestic product in Norway growing almost 4 percent this year, up slightly from 3.5 percent in 2004, compared with about 1 percent in the euro zone in both years.

Even the European Commission’s ambassador to Norway, Gerhard Sabathil, admitted last year that such figures posed a problem. “There are no economic arguments for Norway to join the EU,” Sabathil said in an interview with Aftenposten.

“But,” he added – and this is where those working for Norwegian membership get most of their ammunition – “there are arguments for Norway to become a member in order to have its voice heard on a European level.”

Today, Norway is part of the European Economic Area, a solution that gives the country and its companies access to the EU’s internal market. For most Norwegian businesses – the fishing industry is a clear and vocal exception – this arrangement is a necessity, with close to 80 percent of Norwegian exports going to the EU.

The flip side is that Norwegians have to abide by almost every piece of internal-market legislation while having no vote on these laws. In Norway, this has become known as the “fax democracy,” since Brussels simply faxes new directives for the Norwegians to follow.

“Because we’re not part of the decision-making process, we can’t take care of Norway’s interests in a good way,” said Svein Roald Hansen, chairman of the European Movement in Norway, the main organization working for Norwegian membership. “We’re left to lobbying other countries to make our views have influence.”

But the lack-of-influence argument has not been enough to inspire a wider Norwegian debate on Europe. Instead, most politicians avoid the EU question.

Norway’s voters have twice rejected EU membership in referendums – in 1972 and in 1994 – and most pro-European politicians fear that a third loss would kill the matter for the foreseeable future. “It would probably be received as if we had closed the door emphatically,” Stoltenberg said.


October 27, 2005

Opportunity Knocks In Syria’s Unraveling (Jim Hoagland, October 27, 2005, Washington Post)

The unraveling of Syria’s Baathist dictatorship provides a lifeboat for the unlikely trio of Kofi Annan, George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac. They need to row together to finish the job of holding Damascus accountable and to surmount the difficult seas that each faces on other fronts.

The joint opportunity springs from the astonishingly detailed accusations by a U.N. investigator that Syria’s leadership carried out the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in Beirut — and now tries to cover it up by lying to the United Nations.

The unity shown on Syria by U.N. Secretary General Annan and the American and French presidents in recent days may owe something to lessons learned from their bitter divisions over Iraq in 2003. History does not disclose its alternatives, it is said. But it does seem to provide second chances. […]

Bashar seems to have learned or inherited little from his austere, shrewd father. Chirac was ready to take the son under his wing when Assad came to power in 2000. But that avuncular sentiment quickly turned to disappointment as the new government in Damascus floundered. Annan also was reportedly taken aback by the Syrian’s inexperience and opacity.

Larger principles are involved for Chirac — who is intent on upholding Lebanon’s sovereignty and historical ties to France — and for Annan, who has offered unprecedented support by a secretary general for the investigation and incrimination of the leaders of a U.N. member state. Annan’s appointee, investigator Detlev Mehlis, seems to have pulled no punches in his report to Annan.

There are heartening echoes in this of the principled stance Annan took six years ago by telling the General Assembly that nations could no longer hide behind sovereignty to torture, kill and otherwise abuse their citizens.

The principle being vindicated, and the new standard of sovereignty, is: liberal democratic legitimacy.