Archive for March, 2012

A Baghdad of Fresh Flowers, New Paint and Armored Delegations

All the hype in Iraq right now is the meeting of the Arab League.  The league has not met since before the Arab Spring and will have significant importance to the Arab community.  Iraq has invested 5oo million dollars into this summit meeting.  This is a lot of money considering that the country has many key important areas that they need to see improved.  The people of Baghdad are not to happy about this, but they have remained calm for now.  The Leaders of the Arab League will see a fabricated image of Iraq as hotels will be refurbished and the roads they will be driving on will be covered in flowers.  The emerging of Iraq from seven years of war, the crisis in Syria, and the remarkable turnaround of the Arab League itself are all things that will be in discussion.  All the hype in Iraq right now is the meeting of the Arab League.  The league has not met since before the Arab Spring and will have significant importance to the Arab community.  Iraq has invested 5oo million dollars into this summit meeting.  This is a lot of money considering that the country has many key important areas that they need to see improved.  The people of Baghdad are not to happy about this, but they have remained calm for now.  The Leaders of the Arab League will see a fabricated image of Iraq as hotels will be refurbished and the roads they will be driving on will be covered in flowers.  The emerging of Iraq from seven years of war, the crisis in Syria, and the remarkable turnaround of the Arab League itself are all things that will be in discussion


Oil Dilemma?

Filling up the gas tank for the work commute (if you have to drive long distances) may be even more financially painful than usual this summer. The European Union’s embargo on Iranian oil will fully take affect three months from now, which will cause Iran’s oil exports to fall by around 1.9 million barrels daily and prices to rise. Even more aggressive measures may be taken by the United States to decrease Iranian’s oil exports, by cutting off Iran’s central bank. This could occur at the end of June if President Obama decides to go ahead with the initiative this Friday.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration is counting on Saudi Arabia mostly to provide a “cushion” of additional output, but these embargos and sanctions may be applied too fast for the U.S. to find additional resources to help limit the price rise. Also, the intended affects on Iran may be dulled if sources are unavailable and the limited amount of oil causes export prices to rise. According to statistical estimates by economic policy research group Rhodium and the IMF, Iran could still make close to as much money this year as it did last year if other oil sources are not made available and prices continue to increase.

Gas is already around $4 a gallon at the pump. Private market analyst Trevor Houser from Rhodium Group estimates that global oil prices may climb between $5 and $14 per barrel, due to the fear of oil’s global share capacity diminishing. Ouch.

Will sanctions on Iran  have enough of an affect to be worth implementing so soon? Or will President Obama block the initiative by Friday?

Wall Street Journal, “Iran Oil Slows and Price Concerns Rise”

Rhodium Group:


Another North Korea Deal Falls Through

The United States announced that it has suspended a food aid package to North Korea in response to North Korea’s plan to carry out a missile launch (supposedly a satellite) next month. While the North maintains its plan to hurl the satellite into space is a peaceful mission, the U.S. and other countries concerned state that the launch could help it further its ballistic missile technology. Peter Lavoy, the United States assistant secretary of defense for Asia and Pacific security affairs, stated that the United States is working together with allies in the region to try and discourage the North from going ahead with the launch, because it would violate North Korea’s earlier international commitments concerning missile technology. Mr. Lavoy says that failure of North Korea to follow through on what it has promised raises concerns about the food aid plan the U.S. has offered as well. Late last month, North Korea announced it would temporarily suspend nuclear tests, long-range ballistic missile launches and other nuclear activities. In return the United States pledged to provide the North with 240,000 metric tons of nutritional assistance, which the country’s citizens desperately need. American food aid to the North had been suspended since North Korea expelled U.S. food monitors in 2009 after U.S. officials raised concerns about where the food is going. For now, North Korea is continuing with the launch, even though the United States has explicitly said this violates their earlier deal with the North. In addition to the military applications of the launch, there are other concerns as well. “The North Koreans have indicated that they will launch the missile in a southward direction. And I don’t know if we have any confidence on the stability of the missile or where the actual impact will be. A number of countries are potentially affected. This could fall on, the debris could fall on their countries. It could cause casualties,” Lavoy states. The official KCNA report also quotes an unnamed space program official as saying the North would show the peaceful nature of the satellite by inviting experts and journalists to witness its launch.

Unfortunately, I feel mistakes have been made on both sides. North Korea obviously did not pay attention to the part concerning ballistic missile technology. At the same time, the United States and other allies really did not give a chance for the North to prove that its satellite is indeed peaceful and meant for food purposes. I feel the United States could easily withdraw it’s food aid after the launch. By publicly announcing it, the relations become more strained. North Korea should postpone it’s satellite launch until things can be worked out, and the United States should hold off on cutting the food aid.


-JD Schuler

Is the US Incentivizing Autocracy in Egypt (Again)?

Several weeks ago, as a result of efforts led by Senator Leahy, Congress put conditions on the $1.3 billion in military assistance that the US offers to Egypt every year, as well as another $200 million in economic assistance. The conditions were twofold:

1) Egypt must demonstrate progress in a transition to a civilian government

2) Egypt must maintain support for the Camp David peace accords with Israel


This week, Secretary of State Clinton announced a change from that policy. The State Department has decided to waive the former of those restrictions and to give all of the assistance, totaling $1.5 billion, to the Egyptian government. This includes the economic aid, which was explicitly conditioned only on upholding the peace treaty.

Again, the US has demonstrated is has no real commitment to supporting Arab democratic transitions, or at least that such a commitment can easily be sidelined at the first sign of a larger national interest. America continues to fund the autocratic military council in Egypt, while talking a big game about the undeniably tragic events in Syria. But don’t democracy-hungry Egyptians deserve our support just as much? After all, the country is in the midst of a very fragile and momentous constitution-writing process. Islamists and secularists are in an ideological conflict about the future of the country, a fight at the moment being won by the Islamists, and a fight that risks silencing the voices of those who took to Tahrir 14 months ago to fight for democracy.

As the US moves to provide assistance to the Syrian opposition, political leaders need to recognize that to “put one’s money where one’s mouth is” is not a statement about part-time commitments; it is about an overall foreign policy that shows that the US supports democracy everywhere, not just where it is convenient or more publicized.

– Patrick

Nuclear Security Summit, China, the US, and North Korea

Come on guys, not only is it peaceful but it’s also “for the study of weather forecast” ….um ha

Numero Uno: I find it both concerning and puzzling that the North Korea’s WMD’s were “off the table during the summit” seeing how they are about to launch a long range rocket that would negate any resolve made with the US.

Secondly, I wonder if the US really expected North Korea to really end its deadlock and put a moratorium on further nuclear testing and development. I also wonder whether the US will get much substantive support from China in terms of China pressuring North Korea to not follow through with the planned rocket launch. Based on China’s muted record towards North Korea I seriously doubt China will do much – unless the rocket North Korea may end up launching happens to land in China.

Third and finally, I wonder what, if anything, will be the result(s) of the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit?



More Information:

Not Another BP, but Cause for Alarm

It is hard for me to find solace in the news articles’ words of supposed comfort that the gas leak in the North Sea is not as serious as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The BP incident was, after all, the world’s worst marine oil spill, so at least this leak is unlikely to top that. Phew.

Total is a major energy company whose 240 workers on a rig off the coast of Scotland were evacuated on Sunday when the gas leak began. The workers describe the leak as a “gas cloud” that is spreading across the water, causing a two-mile exclusion zone for boats, three miles for aircrafts. The water surrounding the rig is shallower than that around the BP rig from 2010, which should make the problem easier to fix. Of the greatest concern, however, is the flammability of a gas leak compared to an oil leak. Add onto that that in their evacuation a flare was left burning on the rig, and the gravity of the situation grows.

Reading from multiple news sources, I am disturbed by the lack of attention paid to the environmental effects of the gas leak. Jake Molloy of the RMT Union was interviewed on CNN and only briefly explains that “it could be poisonous gas” that is leaking into the North Sea. The only plan of action now is to wait for the leak to run out, hope the rig does not explode in the meantime, and then move in to patch the leak and get the rig back to functioning. While I certainly do not know the science and engineering behind fixing a gas or oil leak, it does not set me at ease that until a different solution is found the gas is continually seeping into the ocean, especially when Total has warned that it could take six month to stop the gas flow. How much damage to the environment could occur in that timeframe? And even if the damage is contained in that locality, what about rigs elsewhere that are at risk to such leaks? Countries and corporations are on the lookout for more offshore drilling opportunities, but the environment is at risk if they make haste in constructing rigs without ensuring to the best of their ability that such leaks will not occur. Expanding energy production must not come at such a cost to the environment. I know the world needs more energy resources, but it does not need anything near as damaging as the BP oil spill to happen again.


Is Afghanistan Ready

A lot of my posts on the blog this semester have focused on Afghan Security.  More specifically its efficiency and ability to protect it’s citizens following our impending withdrawal or lack thereof.  If the events of these past few months are any indication, Afghanistan is not ready to ensure their own safety.

Continuing this trend, on Monday a suicide bomb plot was uncovered and prevented in the Afghan Defense Ministry in Kabul.  On Monday afternoon officials found 10 suicide vests that were hidden in guard sheds in a parking lot.  To get the vests where the were bombers had to pass through multiple safety-checkpoints, which highlights the significance of the security breach.  It is believed that the bombers were planning on detonating themselves on bus loads of ministry officials on their way home.  Although the Defense Ministry denies all of these “rumors” the incident has been confirmed by various Afghan and Western media officials in Kabul.  There have been over a dozen arrests of both Afghan citizens and soldiers in connection to the bomb plot.  The complicity of Afghan soldiers shows that their is still a large population of military that are targeting the current government.

This is just another example of the division of people and ideas in Afghanistan.  As well as the inefficiency to implement basic security measures in what should be the most secure government facilities.  It also shows the governments exposure and vulnerability to corruption, that must be solved if it will survive once America and other Western forces pull out in the near future. Until the government can get everyone unified and portray legitimacy as a governing body, and punish/imprison violent dissidents, Afghanistan will continue to be a volatile state with an uncertain future.

Looking South of the Border

Robert Kaplan wrote a compelling article today for Stratfor on US relations with Mexico, where dire security and human rights concerns have been overlooked in the past year by growing instability in Syria and across the Middle East. While over 8 thousand Syrians have died at the hands of Bashar Assad’s authoritarian regime since protests began in late January 2011, nearly 50 thousand Mexican citizens have died due to drug war-related violence in the past six years. Indeed, as the possibility for regime change in Damascus is imminent, policy makers in Washington have reason to seek immediate and strategic action on how to alleviate the potential destabilizing outcomes of Assad’s forced resignation. But as Kaplan points out, because all policy options involving US military intervention in Syria are “fraught with extreme risk,” legislators and policy makers have been deadlocked- “ignoring the vaster panorama of violence next door in Mexico… [and delineating] Washington’s own obsessions and interests, which are not always aligned with the country’s geopolitical interests.”

Security issues in Latin America traditionally take the back burner to concerns in other regions, but why? Is it “that cartel-wracked Mexico — at some rude subconscious level — connotes for East Coast elites a south of the border, 7-Eleven store culture, reminiscent of the crime movie ‘Traffic,’ that holds no allure to people focused on ancient civilizations across the ocean,” as Kaplan argues? Or is it that the possibility of drug-related violence spilling into the American Southwest is simply too “sensitive for loose talk”?

Whatever the reason, Kaplan writes, geostrategists,  journalists, and lawmakers must make a greater effort to reach a balance between the unraveling security concerns that occur halfway across the globe and the rising instability taking place 2 thousand miles south from Washington in Juárez. “US foreign policy emanates from the domestic condition of its society,” he continues.  “Nothing will affect its society more than the dramatic movement of Latin history northward.” As Mexico’s economy is booming (at a higher growth rate than that of the US) and the Hispanic population in the States is expanding and taking on greater influence in public policy, security in Mexico will increasingly play a role in in USFP in the next century.

While the costs of  dismantling drug cartels militarily in coordination with Mexican authorities are relatively low (in comparison to our engagements in Central Asia), the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act currently limits our enforcement capabilities on the border. I agree with Kaplan- it is time to take a second look both at the legislation and the cultural barriers that are standing in the way of US policy makers in taking a strategic approach to quell the growing internal strife in Mexico. After all, Kaplan closes, “Mexico, in addition to the obvious challenge of China as a rising great power, will help write the American story in the 21st century.”


AC-unit-tracking aircraft–finding WMDs buried hundreds of feet underground

I read this blog article more out of curiousity than for reblogging it on our class blog. However, while reading it I could not help but be reminded of our last class discussion on the failed intelligence leading up to the Iraq War.

The blog post discusses the recent release of some 40 government memos and studies related to “bunker-busting.” It defines such a “bunker” as an extensive underground construction likely to be used to house nuclear weapons. The first of such was spotted by surveillance aircraft in 1966 in…Cuba. Then more were spotted in Russia (when it was the U.S.S.R.) and North Korea. Through the use of “laser vibrometry” aircraft can detect, not necessarily weapons, but air-conditioning units…which could lead to an underground weapons factory. The National Security Archive, the nonprofit institution that publishes such formerly classified materials, even states that “no other nation, including Israel, can match the United States’ capabilities for the collection and analysis of data.”

Is anyone else thinking to yourself, where were these so-called “AC-unit-tracking” aircraft leading up to the Iraq War? Why did these aircraft not find the massive stocks of WMDs hiding underground in Iraq? Also, if the US has the best intelligence and analysis of data in the world, why did we not know or analyze correctly the data being provided?  There is also no mention of the intelligence on WMDs in Iraq in the whole article. Something I find strange considering the claims the NSA made and the content of the released memos.

On a happier note, apparently we can count on the “AC-unit-tracking” aircraft to find any and all of Iran’s hidden weapons and underground bunkers–the newest of which is built into a mountain near the city of Qom.


U.S. Plans No Charges Over Deadly NATO Airstrike in Pakistan

The U.S. military said no service members involved in the NATO airstrike in November will face charges. This decision is expected to anger Pakistani officials.

In December, an American investigation faulted both the American and Pakistani troops for the exchange that resulted in 24 Pakistani soldiers. This investigation found that the Pakistanis fired first and kept firing even after Americans attempted to warn them that they were shooting at allied troops.

The Pakistani parliment is due to continue its debate this week on a major review of relations with the U.S. The Obama administration aims to resume full dipomatic relations and the reopening of the NATO supply lines in Pakistan, that lead to Afghanistan. As part of that debate, the Pakistani legislators demand an unconditional formal apology from the United States for the November airstrike.

This accidental attack resulted in two main inquiries. The first investigation by the Central Command, found that Pakistani troops fired first, which resulted in the return fire. It also said that checks and balances put in place to prevent cross-border accidents with Pakistan partly failed due to a lack of trust from American officials. They failed to give detailed enough information about American troop location’s in Afghanistan to Pakistani officials. This investiagtion also showed that it took about 45 minutes for a NATO operations officer to notify a senior allied commander about Pakistan’s calls that its outposts were under  attack. The investigation also lists this lack of communication as a contributing factor to the airstrike. The commander ordered a halt to the American attacks following this alert, but by then communications between the two sides “had sorted out the chain of errors” and stop shooting. Without this delay, lives may have been saved.

The Pakistani military rejected the American investigation’s conclusion in January, saying it was not “factually correct.” They claim that Americans attacked first, accused the U.S. of failing to share information, and denied any responsibility for the deaths.

American commanders under the orders of General Mattis, have taken steps to prevents another accident like this one. These changes include increased training and coordination, improved surveillance, and more current information on the location of border installations on both sides.

This type of preventable mistake must be avoided. The last thing the U.S. wants to do is have a mistake like this jeopardize vital parts of the war, such as the supply lines into Afghanistan. NATO should emphasize the changes it has made and show that it is making effort to increase communication and continue to take steps to prevent an occurring such as this one.



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