Archive for September, 2012

The US might not convict but others will

Last Wednesday a high court in Italy convicted twenty three Americans in relation to the kidnapping and torture of an Italian Cleric from Milan.  The CIA mission, in 2003, was to capture the Cleric on his way to prayers and transport him to a CIA base where interrogation could take place.  The mission happened with the assistance of two Italian intelligence officers.  The Cleric was in an Egyptian CIA prison for nearly four years before he was released.  He wants one and a half million euros in damages.


I have previously posted on similar articles dealing with CIA prisoner treatment and secret prisons around the world.  In the other article I posted on the United States was unable to bring a case against CIA officials because of a lack of evidence.  This case in Italy happened without those being accused present, but if they return to the EU they will be detained and made to carry out their sentences.  Italy’s next move is to call on the United States for extradition of the 23 convicted.




Room for Misinterpretation in Potential Iranian Conflict


David Ignatius wrote an editorial Sept. 20 for the Washington Post  about the recently war-gamed scenario at the Brookings Institute’s Saban Center for Middle East policy. In it, Ignatius stated that the U.S. and Iran dragged each other into an unwanted war because experts and former top U.S. security officials misinterpreted and ignored signs of moderation and limitation in the opposing side’s actions.

The bottom line: The game showed how easy it was for each side to misread each others’ signals. And these players were separated by a mere corridor in a Washington think tank, rather than half a world away.

It was an interesting first-person account about how it doesn’t necessarily matter if each side is thinking rationally, because even security experts can make disastrous mistakes.

Sudan, S. Sudan Border Security Agreement Signed Before Important Talks

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir (L) and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir (R)

A potential break through occurred between Sudan and South Sudan as the former conditionally agreed to a proposal by the AU for the creation of a demilitarized zone along their shared border.  This announcement, right before a meeting between both countries heads of state in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, occurred Saturday evening and hours before a deadline set by the UN Security Council was about to expire.

This announcement is a positive sign for the meeting that occurred today between Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his southern counterpart, Salva Kiir.  The meeting between both heads of state is meant to finalize a border security agreement that will allow for the resumption of oil exports from the South through the North to the Red Sea ports.  Originally, Sudan insisted that any deal must first  involve a security accord between both nations.  Ultimately, both nations hope to see the resumption of oil exports, which could take from three to six months once a deal is reached.

The United States has a vested interest in seeing that oil production resumes in South Sudan and is looking into for all possible markets where U.S. companies can expand.  Something that must be remembered for why the two sides are coming to a decision is due to the North’s ailing economy after it lost the South and its oil revenues.  In an attempt to diversify its economy, Sudan recently opened a gold refinery, but still needs to do more to diversify its economy.  By agreeing to the security and border deal, Sudan might be conceding that now is the time for dialogue instead of being obstinate.


Obama v Romney: Energy Policy

Obama and Romney have been throwing punches left and right- sometimes with greater accuracy than others- but one issue that has been left untouched is energy policy. While Obama and Romney have differing views on climate change, this article argues that they have made a decision not to bring up the discussion.

Obama has come out multiple times saying that climate change is happening and human caused, and that renewables are necessary. I think he has decided not to speak much about his plan so as not to anger those in swing states where fossil fuels are a large part of the local economy. For example, in Ohio, arguably the most important swing state, thousands of jobs depend on coal and a shift to renewables is viewed by many as an attack on their way of time. Romney, on the other hand, has been shifty on his views on warming. I think that this proves his unwillingness to commit on a stance. He did come out with an energy policy, which was to support fossil fuels by increasing domestic production.


West Vs East

Recently, a movie depicting Muhammad sparked protests in both Libya and Egypt and resulted in numerous deaths, including American diplomat, Chris Stevens. What is interesting about this article is that it explains what moderate Muslims in Middle Eastern countries think about the West and what the article describes as, “the interconnected world”.  This article explains that the average Muslim is simply trying to make a living and is tolerant of differing opinions. As more civilians who participated and survived the Arab Spring display this kind of moderate behavior, the influence of radical Islamic groups in the region will wane and ultimately cease.

I think this article is interesting because it shows that the strength of violent groups depends on the regualr people who support them. If the people of these communities contiue to seek stability in their socieities by peaceful and pragmatic measures, then terrorist groups will no longer have such a hold on the region and will not pose as great of a threat to the United States or other countries.


Romney, Obama Butt Heads on Iranian Nuclear Timetable


A post in Foreign Policy discusses the ongoing dispute between the U.S. and Israel on whether to establish a “red line” deadline on Iran as a timetable to abandon nuclear weapons.

The article highlights the difference between Romney and Obama’s policies on the question of a red line, stating that Romney has endorsed Israel’s policy while Obama has thus far rejected it. It also says that Israel’s timetable for action is much smaller than the U.S.’s, which is why Obama continues to stress diplomacy over military action.

One possible story for Romney and Obama’s differences on Iran is how Romney is trying to gain domestic points in the election season by pandering to Israelis after they felt abandoned by Obama’s policies. While Romney’s actions can be explained as a win for pluralism/liberalism, Obama refusing to accept a red line on the Iranian question is a pluralist/liberal failure. Instead, Obama is concerned with realist reasons for whether to implement a red line, and so far the rational action is not to do so.

Having said that, there could be room for interesting arguments as to whether Obama’s refusal to implement a red line does not come from pluralist reasons itself.

The U.S. Oil Boom and China’s New Role

Advanced energy technology in recent years as led the U.S. oil production to grow about 25%. As the U.S. is learning to wean itself of off of foreign oil as it strives for energy independence, China is becoming increasingly dependent on middle eastern oil.

In a recent Wall Street Journal interview, Pulitzer Prize winning energy chronicler Daniel Yergin said that one of the major focuses of the US-China relationship will have to be the security of the flow of energy.

As the U.S. becomes less dependent on middle eastern oil, it will be more able to exert its influence in the middle east in such away that would disrupt U.S. interests, such as promoting democracy and pursuing a foreign policy more geared toward the protection of human rights. This oil boom could be a major game changer in the U.S.-Chinese relationship, as well as its relationship with the middle east.


Japan’s Nuclear Future

On March 11, 2011, a massive tsunami caused a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. The meltdown had an array of environmental impacts- nuclear pollution was released into the atmosphere, seeped into the ground and spilled into the ocean. The severity of the disaster has caused waves of public protests and outrage over the use of nuclear power in Japan. When the Fukushima accident occurred, Japan was dependent on nuclear power for thirty percent of its electricity and was committed to increasing dependency.

In response to public outrage, National Policy Minister Motohisa Furukawa announced plans this week to implement policies that will eliminate the use of nuclear power in Japan by 2040. This means that Japan will need to import more oil and natural gas. The shift will increase the cost of energy in Japan and has the potential to bankrupt utility companies.  Increasing the reliance on fossil fuels, as opposed to nuclear power which does not emit greenhouse gases, will also increase Japan’s carbon footprint.

On the other hand, the lack of nuclear power in Japan will reduce the likelihood of another Fukushima accident and will reduce “the risk of nuclear contamination on a large scale, nuclear proliferation, and other extreme hazards.” When assessing this policy change from an international perspective, it seems that while there is not conclusive evidence that terrorists have attempted to steal weapons material or that Japan would ever decide to nuclearize (Article 5 of their Constitution bans that), the potential of material getting into the wrong hands would be so disastrous that this is probably a good thing from a US perspective.



Middle East Powder Keg: Effects of the Syrian Conflict

Al Qaim, Iraq in the heart of the Sunni province of Anbar has been caught in the middle of the Syrian conflict between Sunni rebel forces and President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Al Qaim is located at the border of Iraq and Syria and for the past decade has been a crucial gateway between Syria and Iraq. This gateway in the past was used by Sunni insurgents and former Baathists during the Iraq war but now is being used by Iraqi Sunnis in the region to ferry over supplies and help to there Sunni brethren fighting al-Assad. Al Qaim also currently has thousands of Syrian refugees inside its city and on the border that have been displaced by the war, which the Iraqi Sunnis have been giving aid to. The problem is the Iraqi government who currently has a Shiite majority is backing the government of al-Assad. So many of Iraq’s leaders are worried that al-Assad were to fall and a Sunni regime were to come into power, it would embolden Iraqi Sunnis and flare up sectarian tensions in Iraq.


The US has a powder keg on its hands with the conflict in Syria and the consequences of a regime change in Syria. Specifically in Iraq, the long-standing sectarian violence could turn into what we see now in Syria, a civil war between Sunni rebels and the Shiite government that controls the government. This not only could have possible negative effects for Iraq but also other Middle Eastern countries such as Iran which is also controlled by a Shiite government. The Obama administration is currently backing the rebel Sunni forces with words of encouragement and non-lethal equipment. This is having a terribly negative effect with the Sunni rebels who are disappointed in our commitment and would like to see help in the form of no fly zones.  The Obama administration needs to make it clear what its position is in Syria and to stop making open-ended commitments. If the US keeps going down this path we could possibly looking at an entire region hostile to us which could cripple our interests there.


– Matt

International Bickering Threatens to Compund Turbulent Afghanistan Conflict

Unfolding events in Afghanistan  are straining the already lukewarm relationship between the US/NATO coalition with Hamid Karzai’s Government. Recently, a US airstrike which accidentally killed eight Afghan women drew sharp criticism from the Afghan president. Karzai also publicly expressed anger over the US’s holding of several hundred Afghan prisoners not handed over with Bagram airbase last week, calling it a  “contradiction of mutual friendship.” Karzai’s criticisms of the coalition are a continuation of a trend, and he has been very vocal in bashing coalition actions which he believes use excessive force or which violate Afghan sovereignty.

Recent US-Afghan spats indicate that Karzai is strategically distancing himself from the US in order to achieve political goals. In a future devoid of coalition-led security forces, Karzai will need plenty of domestic support to buoy his Government. His anti-American rhetoric (he once went so far as to publicly call Americans demons) will improve his standing with an Afghan population largely fed up with the presence of coalition forces. Furthermore, Karzai’s aggressive diplomatic posturing will gel well with the recent surge in anti-western/nationalist movements and protests in Afghanistan. “Standing up” to the USA might also make Karzai’s Government seem less fragile and pandering than it did in the past. Unfortunately for the US, Karzai’s politically motivated clashes with the US undermine coalition goals of combating terrorism, and strain a US-Afghan diplomatic relationship which will be vital to US/Middle East Security in the near future.

– Daniel

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