December 30, 2005

The Peace Epidemic: The world isn’t so dangerous after all. (Timothy Noah, Dec. 29, 2005, Slate)

Although it’s widely believed that the long standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union brought peace, that wasn’t really true. Mutual deterrence successfully prevented war between the two great powers, and we can all be very grateful that humankind avoided nuclear annihilation. But the Cold War turned hot in a variety of proxy wars in which the United States supported one side and the Soviet Union supported the other. The human cost was enormous. By the report’s reckoning, the number of “state-based armed conflicts” in the world increased by a factor of three between 1946 and 1991. Dire predictions that the Cold War’s end would bequeath a long epoch of tribal anarchy may have seemed plausible in the early 1990s, as the Balkans were beset with ethnic violence. But in the end the jeremiads weren’t borne out. The death of Soviet communism didn’t just make the West safer; it made the entire world safer. (The report says the end of Western colonialism also played a role; because of anticolonial conflict, the greatest number of wars fought between 1946 and 2003 were waged by the United Kingdom, which fought 21, and France, which fought 19. The United States ranks next with 16, and the Soviet Union brings up the great-power rear with 9. Josef Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union until 1953, was no slouch in the killing department, but he tended to prefer murdering his own countrymen.)

One region must be excepted from this calculus. Interestingly, it isn’t the Middle East (though certainly that region is a violent one). It’s Africa. According to the Human Security Report, more people are being killed in wars in sub-Saharan Africa than in the rest of the world combined. […]

If you go by the numbers, our planet is becoming less violent, not more so. Francis Fukuyama (who himself faltered slightly after 9/11) looks fairly prescient right now for predicting back in 1989 the “end of history,” with “history” defined as “the evolution of human societies through different forms of government.” In effect, Fukuyama was predicting an end to global armed ideological conflict, since “the evolution of human societies” is almost always achieved through warfare. The Human Security Report 2005 bears Fukuyama out. History may come back, but at the moment it’s blessedly on the wane.

There was still a bit of clean-up left to do–disabusing the Islamnicists of the notion their system was a serious alternative–but it was always a dubious proposition that when parliamentarty democracy won the Long War it would lead to a less orderly world.



December 30, 2005

Italy’s Pursuit of CIA Operatives Stalls: Resistance by Berlusconi government and apathy about being able to keep the U.S. from infringing sovereignty fetter case of imam spirited abroad. (Tracy Wilkinson, December 30, 2005, LA Times)

The pro-U.S. government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is refusing to forward the extradition requests and instead has asked for more documentation, a highly unusual request that prosecutors regard as a delaying tactic.

Berlusconi has repeatedly denied that his government knew about or authorized the abduction, even as former CIA officers in Washington said the operation was conducted with Italian government cooperation.

Berlusconi shrugged off the contradiction. Last week, he justified the operation, saying governments should not be expected to fight terrorism “with a law book in hand.”

The ease and openness with which the operatives acted in Milan suggest that they knew they had the green light from Italian authorities. Among other activities, they ran up bills totaling more than $150,000 at some of Milan’s best hotels.

“Berlusconi was an accomplice,” said Giusto Catania, a leftist Italian member of the European Parliament who sits on its civil liberties committee. Catania is one of a group of EU lawmakers spearheading a continent-wide investigation into alleged CIA activities, as reports of secret prisons and flights mount.

It is not in the prime minister’s interest for the Italian inquiry to advance, Catania said, because of his apparent role in permitting the rendition.

Berlusconi believes he will weather any domestic criticism, said a senior advisor to the prime minister, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. […]

Italian prosecutors said the CIA operation was an egregious violation of national sovereignty, a call taken up by some members of the political left. […]

Italian prosecutors have tried to broaden the prosecution of his captors. But, in addition to official roadblocks, they are confronted with a general sense of resignation among Italians, another obstacle to the criminal case. Outrage over the abduction has been tempered by a feeling among many Italians that the Americans will do as they choose on national territory, and nothing can be done about it.

“In a certain sense, Italians expect Italy to be taken for granted,” said Giuseppe Cucchi, a retired army general with Italy’s civil protection office who is familiar with intelligence operations.

It’s a very good thing for the Right to fret about the threat of transnationalism, but the reality is that America, as Crusader State, is the far more significant threat to national sovereignty.


December 29, 2005

Growing Japanese Isolation: Koizumi’s Obsession with the Past Makes for an Uncertain Future (Wieland Wagner, 12/28/05, Der Spiegel)

Go to the movie theater in Japan these days and one of the more popular choices is a film about the country’s past — about a past Japan just can’t seem to shake. The plot centers around a group of exhausted soldiers battling a vastly superior squadron of American aircraft. A scene of spurting blood, massive and deafening explosions and clouds of smoke marks the sinking of the “Yamato,” then the world’s largest battleship, in the Pacific Ocean, together with its crew of about 2,500 sailors. The message of the film — that Nippon’s heroes in World War II did not die in vain — is hard to miss. And it’s one that finds resonance with the Japanese public.

The battle portrayed in the film happened 60 years ago. In an attempt to delay an American invasion of the Japanese homeland, the Japanese military command sent the “Yamato” to an almost certain demise off the coast of Okinawa. The suicide mission created a long-lasting myth of heroic sacrifice for the fatherland, a myth that has never failed to get the Japanese reaching for their handkerchiefs.

This wartime tearjerker is symptomatic of a year in which Japan has marked the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and of the ensuing American occupation. It was also a year made conspicuous by the lack of remorse the Japanese have shown for the atrocities they committed against their Asian neighbors — and for the country’s enthusiastic commemoration of the fallen soldiers of the former Japanese empire. Indeed, mindless sacrifice seems to have become a virtue — one which many in Japan credit for its dramatic rise out of the ashes of World War II.

And the past is increasing in relevance in Japan recently. Once again, Japan feels it is surrounded by enemies. This time, though, the adversary isn’t the United States — on the contrary, America as an ally has become more indispensable than ever. Rather, the rising global power China is making Japan nervous, as is the former Japanese colony Korea.

The strongest relationship they’ve ever had with America and the recognition that China and the Koreas are enemies (the South because it increasingly appeases the North)–where’s the downside here?


December 29, 2005

Aceh marks final troop withdrawal (BBC, 12/29/05)

A ceremony has taken place in Aceh marking the withdrawal of Indonesian troops sent there to combat an uprising which has cost more than 15,000 lives.

The pull-out is the final military step in a peace deal agreed with rebels from the Free Aceh Movement (Gam) aimed at ending 26 years of bitter conflict.

The rebels have already handed in their weapons and dissolved their armed wing.

The peace deal finally came together following the tsunami a year ago which devastated large parts of the province.

More than 120,000 Acehnese were killed in the disaster – and in the face of such widespread loss of life, the two sides appeared no longer to have the stomach for the fight, reports the BBC’s Jakarta correspondent, Rachel Harvey. […]

Under the peace deal agreed in August, the rebels dropped their demand for full independence in return for more autonomy for the province, which lies at the northern tip of the island of Sumatra.

After a number of years of autonomy, independence will come naturally.


December 28, 2005

Devout Democracies: Self-Rule in the Middle East Will Have a Religious Component, but that Doesn’t Mean It Won’t Work (Reuel Marc Gerecht, December 27, 2005, The Weekly Standard)

In fragile societies trying to establish democracy, where communal and individual trust are integral, suicide bombings, if they come in unending waves, could, conceivably, destroy everything. In all probability, this scenario is too pessimistic. The backlash in the Iraqi Sunni community, as elsewhere in the Sunni Arab world, against the horrific slaughter of women and children has already started. It may be a spur to political compromise among the Sunni Arabs in Iraq (for fear of the holy warriors and the Shia, who may eventually let loose a pitiless, all-consuming revenge). And in Afghanistan, the cult of the suicide bomber is still in its infancy. Pashtun society, which is where such holy-warriorism will have to grow, would probably offer sufficient resistance to keep this kind of terrorism from becoming a plague.

Suicide bombing possibly aside, a comparison of Afghanistan and Iraq ought to calm American nerves about the political evolution in Mesopotamia. What doesn’t really bother us in Afghanistan-the participation of devoutly religious Muslims in the political process-shouldn’t bother us elsewhere. We may view Afghanistan with the bigotry of low expectations: Since Afghans have been calling themselves mujahedeen, holy warriors, for nearly three decades, and political Islam has been swirling through the Afghan bloodstream for even longer, we don’t expect their political system to be all that secular. That Afghans, who have developed a certain penchant for making personal and political differences a casus belli, can sit together under one roof and scream but not shoot is an achievement for the new parliament. However imperfect, this is the birth of tolerance. For Americans and their European allies in Afghanistan, and for the Afghans themselves, watching ultraconservative turbaned men, veiled women, and opium-enriched warlords rub shoulders with expatriate suits and ties and women showing hair and a bit of a female form is a very good beginning.

We should have, mutatis mutandis, similar expectations in Iraq. Iraqis, we were told by a long list of Iraqi exiles, journalists, and scholars, are much less fervent believers. On the Shiite, Sunni, and even Kurdish side, this assumption of rather advanced secularization was misplaced and, more important, harmful to our understanding of how democracy would take root in Iraq. We should realize that in Mesopotamia, as in Afghanistan, democracy will be either made or broken by men and women of serious, not particularly reformed faith-not by secular liberals, Muslim progressives, or “moderates” (probably best defined as Muslims who act more or less like ordinary faithful Christians). All of the explicitly secular and moderate candidates did rather poorly in Iraq’s national elections on December 15, even though the United States, with the Central Intelligence Agency in the lead, probably poured a small fortune into helping their cause. One can feel considerable sympathy for the liberal Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya, who recently gave an analytical cri de coeur in the New York Times, dissecting all the reasons we should fear Iraq’s new constitution, with its fissiparous potential. It is, without doubt, a flawed document. One can easily wish for a little less federalist enthusiasm on the Shiite and Kurdish sides.

And one can wish for more vigorous checks and balances. As the late, great historian Elie Kedourie once speculated, Middle Eastern countries, in their earlier democratic moments, might have done much better if they’d used America’s presidential system rather than Europe’s parliaments as a model. A strong executive constantly checked by strong legislative and judicial authorities might have kept the Middle East’s homegrown and imported authoritarian impulses from dominating. Such a constitutional setup today in Iraq would probably improve the odds of surviving sectarian strife.

Furthermore, when one scans the Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish communities, one isn’t particularly inspired by the Iraqi founding fathers. For a secular, liberal Iraqi like Makiya, things are not good. But they are far from hopeless. The Islamic-Iraqi identity on the Shiite side still seems quite solid: From the most secular to the most religious, the nationalist component has not been subsumed. It is possible that it could be: The savage battering of the Shia by Sunni holy warriors and insurgents could make the Shia think of themselves first and always as Shiite, and therefore less willing to compromise with Sunnis, who fear being impoverished in a federalist system that would effectively deny them future oil revenue. Something like this almost happened in Lebanon, when the ideas and foot-soldiers of Iran’s very Shiite Islamic revolution struck Lebanon after decades of Christian and Sunni Lebanese neglect and abuse of the Lebanese Shia, even worse Palestinian oppression of the Lebanese Shia, and the Israeli invasion in 1982. In Iran, the revolution and the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war engorged the Shiite side of the Persian brain, altering temporarily the complex balance that makes the Shiite-Iranian identity.

But we’re not quite there yet in Iraq. We will unquestionably see a federalist Iraq-at a minimum the Kurds will guarantee this. And the Shia have now understood that federalism checks centralized power, which has historically brutalized them. (Until the Shia become more self-confident as a community–and they still appear fearful of the Arab Sunnis’ greater martial prowess–federalism will retain strong appeal for them.) But the language of the Shia still seems overwhelmingly Iraqi in content and tone. For anyone raised in the 1980s on militant Shiite Islamist thought, Iraq just doesn’t do it. Compared with Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps at their most fervid, the young radical Iraqi cleric Moktada al-Sadr seems like a pretty prosaic nationalist. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Dawa party, the two oldest Shiite religious parties, don’t seem at all ready to give up on the idea of a nation that incorporates and compromises with Arab Sunnis. Abdul al-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of SCIRI, may have many sins, but he is not a fanatic. SCIRI’s likely parliamentary chief, Adel Abdel Mahdi, is a thoughtful man who absolutely doesn’t want to push Iraq into civil war.

And there remains the huge fact of the Shiite population in Baghdad, which would be excluded from any Shiite semi–autonomous zone in the south. Baghdad is a majority Shiite city. And it simply cannot be compared to any other city in Iraq-certainly not impoverished and broken Basra, the other possible pole of Shiite urban influence. (The impoverished Shiite south of Iraq actually reminds one of Afghanistan.) For the foreseeable future, the centripetal power of Baghdad will remain. The exclusionary, defensive, federalist impulses of the Iraqi Shiite community, which Makiya rightly fears, can go only so far before they provoke real, paralyzing Shiite resistance from Baghdad. If for no other reason, the Baghdad Shiite factor will likely guarantee sufficient tolerance toward the Sunnis for democratic progress to continue.

An Afghan parallel again has value. Despite the strife and civil war that fragmented loyalties, the Afghan national identity is still alive.

It’s not hard to see how History Ends when the great hope of those who oppose liberal democracy is suicide.


December 25, 2005

For Gorshkov, Navy pilots head to US for training (SHIV AROOR, December 24, 2005, Indian Express)

By the time Russian-built aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov arrives in 2008, the Navy will have a contingent of 32 pilots, trained in specialised deck-based fighter operations at the US Navy training command in Pensacola, Florida.

With the first batch of four Lieutenant-rank officers are already under training there, the next is scheduled to go in March.

The selection of venue for training to operate Russian-built MiG-29K fighters off the Gorshkov may seem strange but the government was compelled to accept the Pentagon’s offer because Russia has no facilities for intermediate deck-based flight training. The US Navy training school in Pensacola trains Naval F/A-18 Super Hornet pilots.

It’s a carom shot that only seems strange if you don’t consider who the common enemies of the three are.


December 24, 2005

Who Lost Nepal? (Robert Kaplan, December 2005, Wall Street Journal)

Nepal, sandwiched between the two rising economic and demographic behemoths of the age—China and India—could be the first country since the fall of the Berlin Wall where communists emerge triumphant. If the Bush administration does not act decisively, that’s what might happen. The administration should not take solace in the flurry of negotiations between the Maoist insurgents (who control most of the hinterlands) and the country’s political parties in Kathmandu, which could undermine the last vestige of legitimate royal authority while further strengthening the insurgents.

By canceling Special Forces training missions to the besieged Royal Nepalese Army, and with the possibility of lethal cuts of American aid to the local military, the administration, along with Washington, has bought into popular abstractions about how to best implant democracy while ignoring the facts on the ground.

Nepal is fast becoming a replay of both Cambodia in the mid-1970s and El Salvador a decade later. In Cambodia, the monstrous Khmer Rouge were threatening the capital of Phnom Penh, home to a pathetically undemocratic yet legitimate regime to which a Democratic Congress had cut off aid—a result of the Watergate-inflicted weakness of the Nixon administration. In El Salvador, murderous right-wing forces that nevertheless represented a legitimate state were pitted against murderous left-wing ones that represented the geopolitical ambitions of the Soviet Union and Cuba. Though the media emphasized the atrocities of the right wing, the Reagan administration had little choice but to work with them. Eventually, the right wing in El Salvador, with the help of a small number of Army Special Forces trainers, won the day. And in the years that followed the Salvadoran state and military were reformed.

Winning the day did not mean outright success on the battlefield. It meant bloodying the left’s nose enough to give the state an edge in negotiations. Ronald Reagan, a Wilsonian, was also a realist. President Bush now needs to take Reagan’s El Salvador model to heart in Nepal.

Not that he’s wrong in principle, but this is one where we need the Indians to lead and us to follow.


December 24, 2005

Japan backs joint US missile plan (Leo Lewis, 12/24/05, BBC)

Japan has approved a joint missile defence programme with the US.

The project aims to produce an advanced version of the US system, which seeks to destroy incoming missiles before they reach their targets.


December 23, 2005

U.N. Hit by a Bolt From the Right: John Bolton is seen as ‘brilliant’ or as ‘a bully.’ But the U.S. ambassador is having an impact. (Maggie Farley, December 23, 2005, LA Times)

Some call him “a bully,” and others say he is “brilliant.” But opinion is divided about whether he is effective — if he is cleaning up the mess, or adding to it.

“He is having a definite impact,” said Ambassador Mihnea Motoc of Romania, a temporary member of the Security Council. “Others wish they could do things the same way.” […]

Just as member states were brushing themselves off from the last collision Bolton precipitated, over an agreement on how to reform the U.N. before the World Summit in September, the U.S. ambassador is setting up a new showdown.

He has threatened to block the world body’s budget for 2006-07 unless diplomats commit to “real reform” by the end of 2005, a year that has seen the organization severely damaged by revelations of corruption and mismanagement in the Iraq oil-for-food program, the disclosure of sexual exploitation by peacekeepers and the U.N.’s difficulty in remaking itself.

The budget battle prompted Secretary-General Kofi Annan to cancel a trip this month to Asia and warn that Bolton’s gambit could exacerbate the very problems it is meant to solve.

“He has an agenda, and he’s pursuing it with a conviction that is uncommon here,” said Algerian Ambassador Abdallah Baali, who sometimes clashes with Bolton in the Security Council but considers him a friend. “He’s doing it his way, which is not the way we do it at the U.N. We are used to a little more compromise.”

The President has always said he beat his alcohol problem without doing a program, but it’s always been striking how his governing style borrows from 12-step ideology. One of the things they teach family members is that all too often the people around the dysfunctional person will alter their own behavior and attitudes to avoid confrontation, thereby enabling the addict or becoming co-dependent on his addiction. In effect, the illness becomes the center of gravity around which everyone sets their own orbits. Similarly, George Bush has demonstrated time and again that if he just sticks to his guns others will adapt to him, shifting the entire political debate and system in his direction. Sending John Bolton to the UN is a perfect example of applying this theory.


December 21, 2005

Irish most happy, Brits most unhappy with EU (Teresa Küchler, 12/20/05, EUOBSERVER)

Support for the EU is declining among the union’s citizens, according to a new commission survey, while Europeans generally back the idea of an EU constitution and reject Turkish EU accession.

The “Autumn Standard Eurobarometer”, presented on Tuesday (20 December) reveals that an average of 50 percent of European citizens consider EU membership of their country “a good thing”, down from 54 percent in spring this year. […]

Of the 25 member states, Austria and the UK appear the most eurosceptic, with just 32 percent of Austrians and 33 percent of Brits saying EU membership is a good thing for their country, followed by Latvia (36 percent), Finland (38 percent) and Sweden and Hungary (both 39 percent).