Recently in International Affairs Category
Does anyone believe that the new Greek deadline is for real? We've heard about "deadlines" for five years. There are no such things as real deadlines in international politics. (Daily Mail, as always, has the best pictures illustrating the ongoing unraveling of Greece.) Greece is a mess. I'd love to hear the various presidential candidates describe what Greek policies -- not negotiating tactics -- have led to this sorry state of affairs.
The International Monetary Fund called last week for European states to accept longer repayment periods and lower interest rates on their loans to Greece. Many economists say that Greece's debt burden, at almost 180% of annual GDP, is unsustainable for a country its size.
Greece has been granted two bailout programmes worth a total of €240 billion euros (£172 billion) in loans from other eurozone countries and the IMF.
But the spending cuts and tax increases demanded as a condition for the loans have hit growth, sending the country into a six-year recession and pushing unemployment to 25%.
As talks broke down between the Eurozone countries and Greece in Brussels last night, European Council president Donald Tusk said: 'I have no doubt that this is the most critical moment in the history of the EU.
'The stark reality is that we only have five days left to find the ultimate agreement.
'Until now I have avoided talking about deadlines, but tonight I have to say it loud and clear that the final deadline ends this week.'
The Islamic State has conquered Ramadi in a stunning blow to American and allied forces. If we want to gift-wrap Iraq for Iran why don't we just say so and save some lives and money? What's the strategy? I don't understand what we're trying to accomplish, but it certainly doesn't look like victory.
Just a month ago, when the ISIS offensive against Ramadi began in earnest, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tried to reassure the world that it was no big deal. Ramadi, he claimed, "is not symbolic in any way.... I would much rather that Ramadi not fall, but it won't be the end of a campaign should it fall."
We can only watch and wait to hear what spin General Dempsey--who has increasingly defined his role as telling the president what he wants to hear, not what he needs to hear--will put on this latest catastrophe. It is, in fact, unspinnable. The fall of Ramadi is a sign of the abysmal failure of the misnamed Operation Inherent Resolve launched by President Obama in August 2014 to "degrade" and ultimately to "destroy" ISIS. Operation Uncertain Resolve is more like it.
There is no doubt that US bombing has succeeded in slightly degrading ISIS--Central Command helpfully puts out a long laundry list of all the buildings and vehicles its aircraft have blown up. But there is scant sign that ISIS is on the path to destruction. True, its offensive toward Baghdad has been blunted and it lost control of Tikrit. But the fact that the assault on Tikrit was led by Shiite militiamen under the effective control of Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of Iran's Quds Force, indicates the self-defeating nature of this offensive. Sunnis will never turn on ISIS, as they turned on AQI in 2007, if by doing so they will open themselves to domination by Shiite militias.
Congrats to the UK for awarding an outright majority to the Conservatives. I wonder if this stunning landslide makes American Democrats nervous? Prime Minister David Cameron had previously led a coalition government because the Conservatives didn't hold a majority of Parliament, but now he can form a majority government and lead much more freely.
Free and peaceful elections seem so routine to those of us in the West, but let's not forget how astounding they are.
David Cameron today vowed to make Great Britain 'greater still' as he set out how he will use his shock outright Tory majority to ensure the 'good life is in reach for everyone who's willing to work and do the right thing'.
The Prime Minister used a statement outside Number 10 to pay tribute to both Labour's Ed Miliband and his former Lib Dem deputy Nick Clegg who have both resigned after suffering heavy losses in one of the most unpredictable election results for a generation. ...
Mr Cameron had earlier walked out the doors of Number 10 to declare he was forming a majority Tory government after routing Labour and the Lib Dems in the biggest electoral shock in living memory.
It appears that some prominent scientists and researchers have been hired by the Global Warming Policy Foundation to look into the adjusted surface temperature records for the last 150 years or so. The GWPF is generally skeptical of anthropogenic global warming, but hopefully the inquiry will be rigorous and transparent enough that its conclusions, whatever they are, will be above reproach.
Their inquiry's central aim will be to establish a comprehensive view of just how far the original data has been "adjusted" by the three main surface records: those published by the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (Giss), the US National Climate Data Center and Hadcrut, that compiled by the East Anglia Climatic Research Unit (Cru), in conjunction with the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction. All of them are run by committed believers in man-made global warming. ...
For this the GWPF panel is initially inviting input from all those analysts across the world who have already shown their expertise in comparing the originally recorded data with that finally published. In particular, they will be wanting to establish a full and accurate picture of just how much of the published record has been adjusted in a way which gives the impression that temperatures have been rising faster and further than was indicated by the raw measured data.
Happy Monday! If you're looking for some encouragement, check out this bullish article about imminent American energy dominance. We've got the right combination of geography and culture to harness oil and natural gas resources that no one else in the world can touch.
"We're just fifteen years into a 150-year process," said Steve Mueller, head of Southwestern Energy, the fourth biggest producer of gas in the US.
Our buddy Putin in Russia is worried.
Russian president Vladimir Putin warned at the St Petersburg economic summit last year that US shale gas was abruptly changing the international order, with serious implications for his country. The early effects have forced down global LNG prices, creating a rival source of gas supply in Europe.
Any future American cargoes would further erode Gazprom's pricing power in Europe, and erode the Kremlin's political leverage. The EU already has a large network of import terminals for LNG.
Lithuania has just finished its "Independence" terminal, opening up the Baltic states to LNG. Poland's new terminal should be ready this year.
Russia has the gepgraphy, but not the know-how or culture to support fracking.
Lukoil analysts say Russian extraction costs for shale are four times higher that those of US wildcat drillers. Sanctions currently prevent the Russians importing the know-how and technology to tap its vast Bazhenov basin at a viable cost.
John Hess, the founder of Hess Corporation, said it takes a unique confluence of circumstances to pull off a fracking revolution: landowner rights over sub-soil minerals, a pipeline infrastructure, the right taxes and regulations, and good rock. "We haven't seen those stars align yet," he said.
Above all it requires the acquiescence of the people. "It takes a thousand trucks going in and out to launch a (drilling) spud. Not every neighbourhood wants that," he said.
Certainly not in Sussex, Burgundy, or Bavaria.
The 21st Century will be another American Century.
The New York Times builds on Peter Schweizer's book, "Clinton Cash", with an investigation into Russian nuclear giant Rosatom's purchase of American owned uranium supplies around the world. It's hard to summarize the details, because transactions like this are inherently complicated, so read the whole article if you want to really understand it. Conflicts of interest abound, but it doesn't look like there's a smoking gun quid pro quo. The appearance is bad enough.
As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation. Uranium One's chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors. Other people with ties to the company made donations as well.
And shortly after the Russians announced their intention to acquire a majority stake in Uranium One, Mr. Clinton received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock.
At the time, both Rosatom and the United States government made promises intended to ease concerns about ceding control of the company's assets to the Russians. Those promises have been repeatedly broken, records show.
It's inconceivable to me that Hillary Clinton could win the presidency with a history like she has, but then I was shocked when Obama won re-election.
North African refugees frequently attempt to flee to Italy from Libya by boat. The crossing is extremely dangerous and hundreds to thousands of people seem to die each year making the journey. It's worse than it sounds though: apparently Muslim refugees are throwing Christians overboard to their deaths.
Italian police said Thursday that 15 African Muslim migrants have been arrested after witnesses said the refugees threw 12 Christians into the Mediterranean following a brawl. ...
During the crossing, the migrants from Nigeria and Ghana -- believed to be Christians -- were threatened with being abandoned at sea by some 15 other passengers from the Ivory Coast, Senegal, Mali and Guinea Bissau.
Eventually the threat was carried out and 12 were pushed overboard. The statement said the motive was that the victims "professed the Christian faith while the aggressors were Muslim."
The surviving Christians, the statement said, only managed to stay on board by forming a "human chain" to resist the assault.
Is this an isolated crime? Or do Muslim refugees commonly murder Christians at sea? Hopefully the investigation will look deeper than this single incident.
Update: President Obama has nothing to say about the persecution of Christians.
(HT: Stephen Green.)
Austin Bay rattles off a list of reasons that people don't trust President Obama -- using a weaving metaphor! What's not clear is whether the President intentionally or unintentionally over-promises and under-delivers.
Obama's "historic understanding" has the sad woof and warp of so many of his administration's domestic and international policy efforts: glowing, inspirational, dramatic rhetoric disguising episodic, hodge-podge, ill-considered, poorly planned and often hastily organized operations. "If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor" is a domestic example. When Obamacare arrived, many Americans learned they could not keep their preferred doctor. Obama said Americans would eventually love the health care law. A substantial majority despises the legislative monstrosity. Now a foreign policy example: Obama's promise to "reset" U.S.-Russia relations. For Vladimir Putin, Obama's reset was a setup. Putin's Russia is now a neo-Fascist expansionary nuclear power slowing carving and digesting Ukraine. Obama's "red line" threat to punish Syria's Assad regime if it used chemical weapons against civilians, and his failure to do so when the Syrians used nerve gas, is another example.
Obama has an enormous trust problem; the man does not keep his word. But his obedient, word-mongering national media corps consistently fails to call him on this grand malfeasance.
Maybe American Millennials could get some tips from Kataguiri, Brazil's new libertarian superstar, who in turn seems to have been inspired by the older American Tea Partiers.
"What Lula and Dilma have done shouldn't just result in their being banned from politics. It should result in them being in jail!" Kim Kataguiri yelled, denouncing Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The March 15 demonstration was the largest Sao Paulo had seen in more than three decades, since 1984 protests demanding democratic elections after a long dictatorship.
But more surprising than the crowd of more than 200,000, according to the Datafolha polling and statistics agency, was the fact it was being led by Kataguiri, a skinny, 19-year-old college dropout, and other young Brazilian activists inspired by libertarianism and conservative free-market ideals.
It's encouraging that it's not only the far-left that can use modern technology to organize and publicize.
This is a very small unit, but if it signals a trend then we are witnessing a significant challenge to the Westphalian nation-state system we've enjoyed since 1648. Up till now only Muslims have been organizing for violence outside the control of a recognized nation, but now Christians are getting into the game. We get so comfortable with the lines on the map that we're apt to forget that the lines are human constructs with no inherent meaning.
An eight-strong team of former British Army soldiers is preparing to leave Britain to join the fight against Islamic State in Syria, the Standard can reveal.
The team are training to fight as a single volunteer unit alongside the Kurdish militias on the front line in northern Syria.
Images on social media show members of the group posing in combat fatigues and clutching high powered assault rifles on a training exercise in Europe.
The caption to one image of a soldier with a machine gun reads: "Bad news delivery system, if you're ISIS!"
The former soldiers are believed to include a number who have Special Forces training.
James Taranto thoroughly mocks John Kerry and Hillary Clinton for their flip-floppery on their support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and makes a keen observation:
Meanwhile, look at the list of prospective GOP presidential candidates (based on the polls we cited in yesterday's column): Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker. Not one of them was in Congress in 2002. That means there is a very strong likelihood the 2016 presidential election will pit a Democrat who voted to authorize the Iraq war against a Republican who didn't. The joke would be perfect if only the Democrat were John Kerry.
Graeme Wood has produced a masterful dissection of how the Islamic State's religious devotion drives its strategy and tactics. It's a long piece, but I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in understanding what ISIS wants and how it views itself in the world.
Here is one small passage that describes how ISIS is forbidden from engaging diplomatically with anyone:
Choudary's colleague Abu Baraa explained that Islamic law permits only temporary peace treaties, lasting no longer than a decade. Similarly, accepting any border is anathema, as stated by the Prophet and echoed in the Islamic State's propaganda videos. If the caliph consents to a longer-term peace or permanent border, he will be in error. Temporary peace treaties are renewable, but may not be applied to all enemies at once: the caliph must wage jihad at least once a year. He may not rest, or he will fall into a state of sin.
One comparison to the Islamic State is the Khmer Rouge, which killed about a third of the population of Cambodia. But the Khmer Rouge occupied Cambodia's seat at the United Nations. "This is not permitted," Abu Baraa said. "To send an ambassador to the UN is to recognize an authority other than God's." This form of diplomacy is shirk, or polytheism, he argued, and would be immediate cause to hereticize and replace Baghdadi. Even to hasten the arrival of a caliphate by democratic means--for example by voting for political candidates who favor a caliphate--is shirk.
There's a lot more, and a lot to think about.
The Islamic State's branding and media operations are critical for their recruitment and survival, and America is struggling to compete.
It's been less than a year since IS burst onto the stage, seizing large amounts of territory and shocking the world with its brutally violent tactics. During that time, the group has evolved into a highly sophisticated multimedia organization, boasting slick social media strategies that could give major corporate marketing teams a run for their money. IS knows how to package its extremist ideology in the form of well-produced videos, attractive graphics, polished magazines and strategic online posts. It's also strikingly savvy at spreading them online, tailoring their presentation and message to media sites like Twitter, YouTube and Vine. The messages are hypercustomized in language, tone and content to reach as many people possible and ultimately go viral. As Marshall Sella recently wrote in Matter, IS is "an entire brand family, the equivalents of the Apple logo's glow ... terrorism's Coca-Cola." There's no need to hold an IS-stamped watch or baseball hat in your hands to face the truth: IS is a powerful and terrifying brand that we were not prepared to reckon with. ...
"These videos of people killing themselves and joining terrorist groups around the world, they're conveying a narrative of authenticity," [Oren Segal, co-director of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism] said. "When we're trying to come up with something that opposes that, how do we capture an authentic counternarrative that doesn't look like 'Say no to drugs'? We need something meaningful. At the end of the day, it's a battle for hearts and minds."
The lack of such philosophical/moral/religious focus is a weakness of the Western secular system. We hope our strengths can make up for it: wealth, size, technology, liberty. For the past couple of centuries our system has managed to beat our more ideologically-cohesive opponents.
Chair of the Department of History at Saint Louis University Thomas F. Madden explains that the Crusades were defensive wars by Christians against centuries of Muslim aggression, and that Muslims ultimately won. It wasn't until World War I that the Muslim Ottoman Empire was dismantled. If anything, modern Muslims should brag about their ancestors' victories rather than playing the victim whenever the word "crusade" is uttered.
So what is the truth about the Crusades? Scholars are still working some of that out. But much can already by said with certainty. For starters, the Crusades to the East were in every way defensive wars. They were a direct response to Muslim aggression -- an attempt to turn back or defend against Muslim conquests of Christian lands.
Christians in the eleventh century were not paranoid fanatics. Muslims really were gunning for them. While Muslims can be peaceful, Islam was born in war and grew the same way. From the time of Mohammed, the means of Muslim expansion was always the sword. Muslim thought divides the world into two spheres, the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War. Christianity -- and for that matter any other non-Muslim religion -- has no abode. Christians and Jews can be tolerated within a Muslim state under Muslim rule. But, in traditional Islam, Christian and Jewish states must be destroyed and their lands conquered. When Mohammed was waging war against Mecca in the seventh century, Christianity was the dominant religion of power and wealth. As the faith of the Roman Empire, it spanned the entire Mediterranean, including the Middle East, where it was born. The Christian world, therefore, was a prime target for the earliest caliphs, and it would remain so for Muslim leaders for the next thousand years.
With enormous energy, the warriors of Islam struck out against the Christians shortly after Mohammed's death. They were extremely successful. Palestine, Syria, and Egypt -- once the most heavily Christian areas in the world -- quickly succumbed. By the eighth century, Muslim armies had conquered all of Christian North Africa and Spain. In the eleventh century, the Seljuk Turks conquered Asia Minor (modern Turkey), which had been Christian since the time of St. Paul. The old Roman Empire, known to modern historians as the Byzantine Empire, was reduced to little more than Greece. In desperation, the emperor in Constantinople sent word to the Christians of western Europe asking them to aid their brothers and sisters in the East.
Drug smugglers are using drones on America's southern border, and the response from the Border Patrol isn't very illuminating.
A recent incident on the Mexican side of the United States' southern border has shed new light on how drones are being used by both sides in the War on Drugs. Late last month a drone overloaded with meth crash-landed in a supermarket parking lot in Tijuana, Mexico, less than half a mile from the border, and was recovered by Mexican law-enforcement officials. The drone's existence provides a rare glimpse of the constantly evolving tactics of transnational smugglers, and it also raises questions about the U.S. federal government's surveillance of the border. The U.S. law-enforcement agencies in charge of policing the border claim to be ready for any threat posed by drones.
So obviously some drugs are being smuggled across the border via drones, but Customs and Border Patrol says:
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, on the other hand, is downplaying concerns about the potential for growing use of unmanned aircraft at the border. "To date, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has not intercepted any drones smuggling narcotics across the borders into the United States," CBP spokesman Carlos Lazo said in a statement. "In collaboration with our federal, state, local and international law enforcement partners, CBP remains vigilant against emerging trends and ever-changing tactics employed by transnational criminal organizations behind illegal attempts to smuggle narcotics into the U.S."
We're supposed to be relieved that they haven't intercepted any drug smuggling drones? Whatever the CBP told Ryan Lovelace, their drone strategy isn't a counter-drone strategy in any sense.
Outwardly, the Border Patrol appears to be ready for drone-powered drug smugglers. Border Patrol agents would not comment on the counter-measures the agency might employ to combat drones that are threatening its agents or being used in the commission of crimes. But the Border Patrol has an arsenal of drones of its own. The agency's Unmanned Aircraft System has a fleet of nine Predator B drones that can fly for 20 hours straight and travel at speeds up to 276 miles per hour to help secure the nation's border. Predator B drones, which are also used by the military, are much more sophisticated and powerful than the drone that crashed in Mexico. The drug-smuggling drone was much smaller, slower, and less durable than the top-dollar equipment paid for by American taxpayers.
Possessing your own drones doesn't help you defeat enemy drones in any way, unless you've got air-to-air combat drones of some sort. Definitely not Predators, which are for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. So the fact that CPB's drones are more expensive and more capable than the smuggler drones is really not relevant to this matter.
If the White House can't be protected from hobbyist drones then the borders definitely cannot be protected from determined adversaries with drones.
I'm always intrigued by the way that George Friedman ties geography to current affairs. Here is writes about the centuries-long hostility and ambivalence between Christian and Muslim cultures along the Mediterranean Sea in light of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
There is here a question of what we mean when we speak of things like Christianity, Islam and secularism. There are more than a billion Christians and more than a billion Muslims and uncountable secularists who mix all things. It is difficult to decide what you mean when you say any of these words and easy to claim that anyone else's meaning is (or is not) the right one. There is a built-in indeterminacy in our use of language that allows us to shift responsibility for actions in Paris away from a religion to a minor strand in a religion, or to the actions of only those who pulled the trigger. This is the universal problem of secularism, which eschews stereotyping. It leaves unclear who is to be held responsible for what. By devolving all responsibility on the individual, secularism tends to absolve nations and religions from responsibility.
This is not necessarily wrong, but it creates a tremendous practical problem. If no one but the gunmen and their immediate supporters are responsible for the action, and all others who share their faith are guiltless, you have made a defensible moral judgment. But as a practical matter, you have paralyzed your ability to defend yourselves. It is impossible to defend against random violence and impermissible to impose collective responsibility. As Europe has been for so long, its moral complexity has posed for it a problem it cannot easily solve. Not all Muslims -- not even most Muslims -- are responsible for this. But all who committed these acts were Muslims claiming to speak for Muslims. One might say this is a Muslim problem and then hold the Muslims responsible for solving it. But what happens if they don't? And so the moral debate spins endlessly.
This dilemma is compounded by Europe's hidden secret: The Europeans do not see Muslims from North Africa or Turkey as Europeans, nor do they intend to allow them to be Europeans.
It's easy to get caught up in the present and forget the path that brought us to today.
Havana before Communism. The pictures are amazing.
It was during the presidency of Gerardo Machado in the '20s that Cuba's tourist trade really took off. Hotels, restaurants, night clubs, golf clubs and casinos sprung up in Havana catering to the rich jet-setters seeking luxury. Socialites, debutantes, celebrities like Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra, and American mobsters came to play in the Cuban paradise.
Tourism, and the growing and selling of sugar, was making some Cubans rich, but not all Cubans. What the tourists didn't see, or didn't want to, was the underclass, people of poverty like the macheteros -- sugarcane cutters -- who worked only during the four month season, and the rest of the year were unemployed, and angry.
That degree of income inequality as well as accusations of corruption within the government of President Fulgencio Batista laid the groundwork for the Cuban Revolution, prompting an enduring economic embargo by the United States and the rapid end of Havana's high-life.
Victor Davis Hanson decries multiculturalism and reminds the world of the prescription for national success:
For Muslims of the Middle East, there is a clear pathway to economic prosperity and a secure lifestyle; countries as diverse as South Korea, Japan, and Chile are proof of it. Within wide parameters, success only asks adherence to a mostly free market, some sort of freedom of expression, religious tolerance, a separation of science from orthodoxy, the rule of law, and consensual constitutional government -- along with a cultural ethos of rough parity between the sexes, merit-based evaluation instead of tribal favors, and tolerance for ethnic and religious minorities.
If a country chooses to follow this pathway then success will follow almost inevitably regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or skin color.
I've been away from the computer for a while over the holidays! So, why not jump back on in time to join the chorus berating President Obama for ignoring the unity rally in Paris.
More than 40 heads of state came together in Paris to denounce a wave of terrorism that defiled the City of Light last week -- yet there was one glaring exception: The U.S. sent only a low-level official.
French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and dozens of other world leaders all took part in the powerful denunciation of last week's terror attacks that left 17 innocents dead.
Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas set aside their differences to march together on Boulevard Voltaire.
But the nation that stands as the symbolic face of the war on terror was nowhere in sight.
Neither President Obama nor Vice President Biden showed up -- and in fact, America's only representative was its relatively unknown and low-profile ambassador to France.
In all fairness, this is what ambassadors are for. Maybe the President completely misread the mood of the world and decided that this rally was nothing special?
Obama and Biden had empty public schedules Sunday, but the White House declined to comment on why they didn't go.
Presumably by the time it became clear that 40 world leaders would be attending, it was too late for the President and Vice President to get to France.
Attorney General Eric Holder did go to Paris -- but only for an anti-terrorism summit convened by Hollande ahead of the unity rally. Holder left Hollande and the others sometime after the group exited the Elysee Palace. Around the time other world leaders and dignitaries boarded buses to get to the front of the march, Holder was taping an interview for "Meet the Press," NBC confirmed.
Maybe Holder didn't even know about the world leaders when the march was about to start?
Still, "no one told us" is only excuse if you need to be told when to express unity.