August 16, 2012

Farewell. The Flying Pig Has Left The Building.

By Steve Hynd,

 After four years on this site, eight years total blogging, Newshoggers is closing it's doors today. We've been coasting the last year or so, with many of us moving on to bigger projects (Hey, Eric!) or simply running out of blogging enthusiasm, and it's time to give the old flying pig a rest.

We've done okay over those eight years, although never being quite PC enough to gain wider acceptance from the partisan "party right or wrong" crowds. We like to think we moved political conversations a little, on the ever-present wish to rush to war with Iran, on the need for a real Left that isn't licking corporatist Dem boots every cycle, on America's foreign misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. We like to think we made a small difference while writing under that flying pig banner. We did pretty good for a bunch with no ties to big-party apparatuses or think tanks.

Those eight years of blogging will still exist. Because we're ending this typepad account, we've been archiving the typepad blog here. And the original blogger archive is still here. There will still be new content from the old 'hoggers crew too. Ron writes for The Moderate Voice, I post at The Agonist and Eric Martin's lucid foreign policy thoughts can be read at Democracy Arsenal.

I'd like to thank all our regular commenters, readers and the other bloggers who regularly linked to our posts over the years to agree or disagree. You all made writing for 'hoggers an amazingly fun and stimulating experience.

Thank you very much.

April 09, 2012

Standing On The Edge

By Steve Hynd

I've a post up at The Agonist today wondering if the time has finally come for the West and Iran to either do a deal or go to war. Trita Parsi says it has and I'm inclined to agree.

But if the first order consequences of attacking Iran have been well covered by many, second order and further consequences ar harder by their very nature to predict and have not been well explored in the media. Previous wars in the region have shown that events which interrupted between 4 and 7% of the world's oil supply caused price spikes of between 25 and 70%. Iran accounts for 5% of the world's supply and all the oil flowing through the Hormuz Straits comes to 20% of that supply. At some point, if oil hits a sustained price of over $110 a barrel and before $150 a barrel, the global economy begins to break down. At over $150 a barrel for a long period, we can expect a worldwide economic crash. The current price of oil is around $100 a barrel. The math is easy. here.

I'm torn between coming across as too alarmist and calling the potential oncoming disaster what it is. We don't need Mutually Assured Destruction between Cold war superpowers to cause the downfall of modern civilization any longer. If the world pitches into a massive economic crash right now - with the debt-ridden nations of Southern Europe leading the way - it won't recover in time before global warming and peak cheap oil really begin to bite, causing their own massive economic impact. It may not be an exaggeration to say these talks constitute a threshold.

March 06, 2012

Iran talks: hope or "red line" time?

By Steve Hynd

After Obama and Netanyahu's meeting, it appears there'll be no unilateral Israeli attack on Iran just yet. And today there's news that there's to be a new round of negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran, plus Iran is looking to grant limited access for IAEA inspectors to the Parchin military base. All good, Right?

No, Iran isn't exactly out from under the threat of preventative war yet.

The Guardian reveals why the talks will likely fail, before they've even begun. Sarkozy's taking the hard line.

French officials argued that in order to satisfy Israel that all was being done to resolve the nuclear crisis by peaceful means, the international response would have to make it absolutely clear that the talks would have to end with the "full implementation" of UN security council resolutions calling for the suspension of uranium enrichment. That language was spelt out in Ashton's latest letter.

In my humble opinion, there's no way Iran will agree to such a thing. It would be a domestic political disaster as well as a crippling submission in the eyes of the world. So if France sticks to its demand and the rest of the P5+1 agree, then the talks will fail (probably with Iran being blamed for the failure, as ever).

After that? Well, Michael Tomasky is spot-on about Obama's rhetoric at AIPAC probably not being the most auspicious.

the important part of the speech, the sentences that historians might be ruing and Americans regretting 15 years from now, was this: “Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.”

Here’s why this is important. Ironclad vows like this tend to lock a nation into a position from which it cannot later retreat. If you were already thinking “Truman Doctrine,” give yourself a point.

When Obama speaks today about a "window of opportunity' for Iran, he includes implicitly the notion that the window will close at some stage, and over the last two days he's made it impossible to walk that notion back. If these new talks fail, he's going to be under immense pressure to say Iran's "last chance" has finally come and gone, whether or not there's an actual nuclear weapon "red line" in evidence.

March 05, 2012

It's John Yoo's America, We Just Have To Live Here

By Steve Hynd

Attorney General Eric Holder has been explaining the Obama administration's stance on targeted killings without prior trial, including those of US citizens.


The Obama administration believes that executive branch reviews of evidence against suspected al-Qaeda leaders before they are targeted for killing meet the constitution’s “due process” requirement and that American citizenship alone doesn’t protect individuals from being killed, Attorney General Eric Holder said in a speech Monday.

“Due process and judicial process are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security,” Holder said. “The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.”

Broadly outlining the guidelines the Obama administration has used to conduct lethal drone stikes overseas, Holder said the U.S. government could legally target a senior operational al Qaeda leader who is actively engaged in planning to kill Americans if the individual (1) posed an imminent threat of violence; (2) could not feasibly be captured; and (3) if the operation was conducted in line with war principles.

Such a use of lethal force against that type of individual, Holder said, wouldn’t violate the executive order banning assassinations or criminal statues because such an act would be in “self defense.” In remarks delivered at Northwestern University Law School in Chicago, Holder also said that targeted killings are not “assassinations,” adding that the “use of that loaded term is misplaced” because assassinations are “unlawful killings” while targeted strikes are conducted lawfully.

The bold emphasis is mine. "Due process" now includes being accused, found guilty and sentenced to death by an executive that is judge, jury and executioner and all conducted in the shadows.


Hamdi–which Holder invokes for premise that “due process takes into account the realities of combat”–specifically says “the threats to military operations posed by a basic system of independent review are not so weighty as to trump a citizen’s core rights to challenge meaningfully the Government’s case and to be heard by an impartial adjudicator.” Hamdi permits for balancing–for the use of things like hearsay, for example. But it explicitly says that the realities of combat don’t obviate a citizen’s right to an impartial adjudicator.

You know. Like a judge.

Somehow, I've fallen through a portal into John Yoo's America.


Adam Serwer:

don't assume that when Holder says "imminent threat of violent attack," he means that you're actually part of a specific plot threatening American lives. "The Constitution does not require the President to delay action until some theoretical end-stage of planning when the precise time, place, and manner of an attack become clear," Holder said. That would introduce an "unacceptably high risk of failure." When he refers to "failure," Holder presumably means failing to kill the target before the attack or plan for an attack materializies, not the possiblity that the government might accidentally kill an innocent person.

If the standards for when the government can send a deadly flying robot to vaporize you sound a bit subjective, that's because they are. Holder made clear that decisions about which citizens the government can kill are the exclusive province of the executive branch, because only the executive branch possess the "expertise and immediate access to information" to make these life-and-death judgments.


“Few things are as dangerous to American liberty as the proposition that the government should be able to kill citizens anywhere in the world on the basis of legal standards and evidence that are never submitted to a court, either before or after the fact. Anyone willing to trust President Obama with the power to secretly declare an American citizen an enemy of the state and order his extrajudicial killing should ask whether they would be willing to trust the next president with that dangerous power.”

Some used to think it was ok to trust a president with that kind of power if he was a Democrat. (I'm not going to quote myself but please, just read the link.)

February 28, 2012

Intervention: We're Doing It Wrong

By Steve Hynd

While news of human rights abuses in Syria are burning up the headlines, it's worth remembering that Libya still has major human rights problems despite Western intervention there, thanks mainly to the plethora of militias run riot. And let us not also forget that Iraq, almost a decade on, still has serious problems with its humanitarian record. Afghanistan's problems post-intervention have never been more manifest than this last week.

The lesson the West took from Iraq and Afghanistan is that it was best to intervene and get out again, rather than try to manage the aftermath. That's why current calls for intervention in Syria, which are often hopelessly unrealistic even on their own terms, usually don't mention any plan to manage the aftermath despite the fact that any such intervention will be destabilizing on a scale comparable to Iraq.

It would be far better to accept the utilitarian principle of "first, do no harm" and not employ military means in pursuit of humanitarian causes at all. After all, the resources involved could be better expended - saving more lives and relieving more misery, fulfilling "for the greatest good of the greatest number" - by non-military aid and development in places where the shooting hasn't started yet.

February 13, 2012

Obama's Election Budget

By Steve Hynd

There's a nice run-down on the main talking points of Obama's planned election budget over at the Beeb.

The proposal includes $1.5 trillion (£950bn) in new taxes, much from allowing Bush-era tax cuts to expire.

...His plan to allow George W Bush-era tax cuts to expire would affect families making $250,000 or more per year.

The president would also put in place a rule named after billionaire Warren Buffett to tax households making more than $1m annually at a rate of at least 30%.

In a populist touch, over the next decade, the plan would levy a new $61bn tax on financial institutions, in an effort to recover the costs of the financial bailout.

And it would raise a further $41bn by cutting tax breaks for oil, gas and coal companies.

...It means the president would not fulfil his 2009 promise to half the federal deficit by the end of his first term.

I say "talking points" because this is clearly a budget plan that will never be realized and isn't intended to be. As the BBC's Adam Brookes notes in a sidebar:

President Obama is seeking to ignite passion and commitment in his supporters as his re-election effort gets underway. And that is what his budget speech was all about.

Mr Obama sought to lay down the economic vision that will define his re-election campaign. His plan does hack away at government spending. But Mr Obama's senior advisers have said bluntly that this is not an austerity budget.

Austerity, they say, will only slow down recovery. Little wonder his Republican opponents in Congress, for whom tax increases are a diabolical heresy, are raging at the plan. They are swearing to dismember it, which they can and will.

But Mr Obama's aim now is not really to persuade a furious gridlocked Congress of anything. It's to persuade frightened American voters that he can lead them back to prosperity.

It's a savvy move, I'll admit. Obama intends painting the GOP as the party "of the rich, for the rich" and his own party as being all for the little guy, just for long enough to get re-elected. Then he and the Dems can quietly go back to being the other party of the rich, for the rich, with impunity.

Update AP has an agency-by-agency guide to the winners and losers under Obama's proposed budget. the biggest losers in percentage terms compared to the 2012 budget are Education (-52%), Labor (-35.7%), Transportation (-39.4%), Housing and Urban Development (-21.3%). The biggest winners are Energy (+41%), Commerce (+15.6%), State (+13.8%). No comment from me required, there.

Obama = 77% Dubya

By Steve Hynd

Back in June 2008, Congressman Dennis Kucinich introduced 35 articles of impeachment against President George W. Bush on the floor of the House, in a move that progressives at the time loved.

Now, ant-war activist writer David Swanson notes that 27 of those articles apply equally well to President Obama.

I think all progressives can agree that being 33 23% not-Republican isn't at all good. The big question, I suppose, is whether it's enough of a difference to justify voting for the guy and his party. Maybe instead the thing to do is put up with the 23% extra margin for a decade or two while we build a movement and a new party that can get an actual non-Republican elected. After all, despite Democrat fearmongering of the "most important election EVAH!" kind, ignoring that Republicans have ruled the roost for at least half of the last century and haven't managed to destroy the United States yet. (Contrary-wise, despite rightwing howls over the post-war decades, neither have the Dems succeeded in destroying America.) On both sides of the partisan not-fence there is a deep and persistent contempt for the rights of the common people and a belief that power confers privilege in its original sense - private law - in all matters both foreign and domestic. That 23% difference seems to be shrinking all the time.

Only a true Labor movement, a "big tent" party, can alter the current status quo. I've been banging this drum since 2005, making arguments for a coalition of the Left (by which I mean the true constituency of the Left - all of those who are poor and working class). Over the years, I've become more and more cynical - I now do not see the Democratic Party as any possible part of the solution, because the party's leadership are inextricably part of the problem.

I'm not arguing that the Republicans are in any way a better alternative than the Democrats. I'm are simply arguing that Democrats' actions leave me feeling that they are not worth the Left's time, money and loyalty. They are well aware that the current system makes them one of only two big fish and that their core agenda is moderate, middle-class and corporate. In 2008, the average net worth of a Senator was almost $14 million. The average net worth of a Congressman was $4.6 million. President Obama is worth somewhere north of $5.5 million and will leave office significantly richer than when he was sworn in. Do you all think that might just be a wee, tiny tad of a conflict of interest when it comes to considering whether to enact legislation to help the poorest or instead do stuff like perpetuating the Bush tax cuts - something that would leave lawmakers on average $3 million each richer over a decade?

Bear with me here while I digress on British political history. In April 1888, Kier Hardie stood for election to the British parliament as an independent labour candidate, after realising that the Liberal Party was happy to call for the votes of working people as its natural due but would never enact more than a tiny proportion of a labour agenda that was at odds with its own essentially rich-elite nature. he lost that election, but it began a process that saw Hardie returned to parliament as the first MP from an independent labour party in 1892 - a process that saw the rise of a Labour Party that by 1924 became the party of government for the first time. That Labour Party - despite it's latter-day co-opting by the Whigs again, in the Americanised form of the Blairites - is singularly responsible for the UK's policies of women's suffrage, of worker's rights, of universal healthcare, universal education and a social safety net for those who struggle. It's policies have been copied, in some form or other, the world over.

Despite any regretable tendency to proclaim "not invented here", the story of the rise of the Labour Party in Britain has important lessons for modern America. While not exact, the analogy is none the less clear: a nation where rule is divided between competing elements of the rich elite - one that pretends to care about the interests of the common people and one that makes no such pretense - with each taking their turn to steer the country, always toward greater power and enrichment for the already rich and powerful, the only difference being the degree of audacity with which that policy is pursued. Those lessons are simple: it takes a long time to build an effective labor movement, and it does that movement no good to keep voting for liberal Whigs in the hope that those members of the rich elite will enact legislation to satisfy any meaningful proportion of the working class's needs. But as Saul Alinsky once said, "Power goes to two poles -- to those who've got the money and those who've got the people."

There is no demographic reason why a party of the common people, for the common people, should not be the majority party in the United States. Indeed, there are reasons to believe such a party, responsive to a popular and democratic socialist agenda, could be the natural majority party. The party could not be named the Labor Party - thank McCarthy and his kneejerk legacy - but a Populist Party could, with a couple of decades of organising, see majorities on the Hill and a President in the Oval Office.

It's important to realise that the current electorate is not the same as the potential electorate. By American standards the turnout for the 2004 Presidential election was high, for example - yet by the standards of other Western democracies it was woefully low. Chris Bowers at MyDD researched who didn't turn out to vote and came up with some interesting findings. In 2004, for example, the national median income was $35,100 p.a. yet the median income of the electorate was $55,300 - a difference of 57.5%.

In other words, it is mostly the poorest segment of society who don't vote. Consider that although a presidential election winner might gain 52% of the electorate, he'd still only win 34% of all the possible votes. There is a huge potential constituency out there, between 25% and 30% of the potential electorate, who simply don't vote - and they don't vote simply because neither major party have policies that address their concerns! A party that can mobilise that unheard constituency and take even 10% from the current Big Two wins the first national election in which it has built up sufficient organisation to do that mobilization on a nationwide basis.

The standard Democrat response to anyone who suggests such a thing is circular - since a true broadbased party of the poor and working class doesn't exist it cannot get elected and since it cannot get elected it should not exist. But they show no burning desire to break the cycle of abuse between the left and the party's leadership illustrated so well by this graphic that first did the rounds in about 2005:


We are without doubt in a class war, one the rich started and the rich are winning, and it is right to call it for what it is. Senators and Congressman - and President - no matter which party political lable is affixed to them, have no idea what it is to be truly poor in America. While you were suffering, they have increased their wealth. They have engineered our current economic dire straits as the direct consequence of their unfettered seeking for more riches and their sociopathic inability to empathize for the effects of that seeking on the rest of us. They have engineered a political system where our only real choices are between all-out asset strippers - the Republicans - and those who pretend to have our interests at heart while doing the bidding of the rich who run corporations which have bought and paid for lawmakers. If you're committed to a progressive or populist approach to government and public service, if you are poor, if you're an ethnic minority (especially Black or Hispanic), or are a woman concerned with her reproductive rights (which are increasingly under attack), the Democrats have been more than happy to take you for granted and even openly entertain selling you up the river. Everyone is stuck in this cycle until the vast majority who must scrape to make ends meet each month stop voting for them.


February 08, 2012

Real Men Go To Tehran Via Damascus

By Steve Hynd

The CSMonitor's Nicholas Blanford today writes that "diplomats and analysts say Western and Arab officials are mulling an option of military support for the rebel Free Syrian Army," the Sunni main opposition to Assad's Shiite regime. Despite the continued shelling of the Sunni stronghold city of Homs by Syrian government forces, now into its fifth day, the UNSC vetoes of China and Russia as well as military appreciation that Syria is not like Libya seems to have taken a "colaition of the willing" direct intervention off the table. Blanford quotes Andrew Exum of the CNAS think-tank in Washington, a group acknowledged as a primary driver of the Obama administration's foreign and military thinking.

“The Syrians will almost certainly resist any intrusion into their sovereignty, so to execute either a NFZ [no-fly zone] or safe haven would mean a fairly extensive air war to reduce Syrian air defenses,” Exum says. “We should also note that any such air operations would take place in some of the most militarily and politically sensitive air space on Earth.”

Syria has an aging but extensive air defense network provided by Russia, along with the bulk of its other weaponry. It's military is five times larger than Libya's. Both Hillary Clinton and the UK's William Hague have explicitly ruled out direct military action for now.

It may be that the West is already funneling both weapons and trainers to the FSA's rebels. Two days ago Borzou Daragahi, the Middle East and North Africa correspondent for the Financial Times, tweeted: "Wow - Misurata revolutionaries announce combat deaths of three #Libyan fighters in #Syria". That would seem to at least partially substantiate Philip Giraldi's report back in December (well in advance of any UNSC vote) that:

Unmarked NATO warplanes are arriving at Turkish military bases close to Iskenderum on the Syrian border, delivering weapons from the late Muammar Gaddafi’s arsenals as well as volunteers from the Libyan Transitional National Council who are experienced in pitting local volunteers against trained soldiers, a skill they acquired confronting Gaddafi’s army. Iskenderum is also the seat of the Free Syrian Army, the armed wing of the Syrian National Council. French and British special forces trainers are on the ground, assisting the Syrian rebels while the CIA and U.S. Spec Ops are providing communications equipment and intelligence to assist the rebel cause, enabling the fighters to avoid concentrations of Syrian soldiers.

However, Assad has friends that Libya did not have, namely Russian and China, who have interests in Syria that they can exercise, whereas they did not have the ability to project force in Libya nor supply the regime at reasonable costs. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has said that Assad is ready to negotiate with the rebels but few believe Assad really means it - especially since the shelling of Homs continues - and in any case the rebels are standing firm on their call for regime change. Thus the stage is set for a protracted proxy war between the West and Russia, which has a major naval base in Syria it will not want to give up.

It also sets up a direct confrontation between Shiites and Sunnis in the region, with the neo-whatever eternal bugbear Iran sitting in the background as a clear target. The neocon Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) think tank in particular is being especailly vocal on Syria right now, hoping to drive Western policy towards a showdown with Tehran. They are talking up the FSA:

“I believe the FSA is now one of the drivers of the situation. It is going to shape the outcome,” says Jeffrey White, a military analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) and author of a new briefing paper on the FSA. “It has changed the nature of the conflict with the regime, is becoming increasingly identified with the popular opposition within Syria, has shown resilience on the battlefield, and is growing in capabilities and numbers.”

And talking up the notion of proxy intervention.

turning the FSA into a coherent military force will require “coordinated action by the intelligence services of a coalition of the willing,” says Jeffrey White, a military analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The FSA, he says, would need an assured supply of arms and ammunition, especially anti-tank missiles, secured means of communication, advice on how to coordinate operations across different regions of Syria, intelligence on Syrian Army operations and vulnerable military infrastructure.

“The intelligence services of the US, the UK, France, Turkey, Jordan, and other states in the region have the know-how and capabilities to do these kinds of things,” Mr. White says. “It would be important to have cooperation from one or more of the states bordering Syria, especially Turkey, in order to establish base facilities, training camps, supply routes and infiltration routes.”

It's a dangerous route to take.

“Syria is already an arena for proxy competition between Saudi Arabia and its allies and [rival] Iran and its allies,” says Aram Nerguizian, a military analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and author of a report published in December on the risks of military intervention in Syria. “Anything that would involve direct Western intervention would be deeply destabilizing at the regional level.”

Of course, destabilizing the region has long been the neocon answer to the Middle East - as long as it doesn't include Israel. Their stated theory is that a shake-up will mean the emergence of democratic states more friendly to the U.S. Thus WINEP and others advocating covert arming of the rebels have both regime change and crippling Iran in mind when they do so.

"In Syria [sectarian identity] is there. All you have to do is scratch the surface," says Andrew Tabler, a Syria specialist with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of a book on Syria under the presidency of Mr. Assad. "Until now, I don't think you have seen a tremendous amount of organizing along sectarian lines.... But it is natural that the main divide is going to be between Alawites and other Shiite off-shoots versus Sunnis."

The Guardian's Seumas Milne is spot on when he writes:

Already US, British and French leaders are busy setting up a new coalition of the willing with their autocratic Saudi and Gulf allies, satirically named "friends of democratic Syria", to build up the opposition and drive Assad from power.

Intervention is in fact already taking place. The Saudis and Qataris are reported to be funding and arming the opposition. The Free Syrian Army has a safe haven in Turkey. Western special forces are said to be giving military support on the ground. And if that fails, the UN can be bypassed by invoking the "responsibility to protect" civilians, along Libyan lines.

But none of that will stop the killing. It will escalate it. That is the clear lesson of last year's Nato intervention in Libya.

...The overthrow of the Syrian regime would be a serious blow to Iran's influence in the Middle East. And as the conflict in Syria has escalated, so has the western-Israeli confrontation with Iran. Even as US defence secretary Leon Panetta and national intelligence director James Clapper acknowledged that Iran isn't after all "trying to build a nuclear weapon", Panetta has let it be known there is a "strong likelihood" Israel will attack Iran as early as April, while Iran faces crippling EU oil sanctions over its nuclear programme.

Western intervention in Syria – and Russia and China's opposition to it – can only be understood in that context: as part of a proxy war against Iran, which disastrously threatens to become a direct one.

To WINEP and many others calling for intervention by proxy in Syria, greater sectarian conflict and a possible confrontation with Iran are features, not bugs. The former head of Mossad took to the NY Times yesterday to proclaim that "Getting Iran booted out of Syria is essential for Israel’s security" and "The current standoff in Syria presents a rare chance to rid the world of the Iranian menace".

There are without doubt some serious and genuine advocates of the "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine who are allying themselves with the regime-changers over Syria, but they are few and far between.

February 05, 2012

This Is The War That Never Ends

By Steve Hynd

It just goes on and on my friends.

The United States’ plan to wind down its combat role in Afghanistan a year earlier than expected relies on shifting responsibility to Special Operations forces that hunt insurgent leaders and train local troops, according to senior Pentagon officials and military officers. These forces could remain in the country well after the NATO mission ends in late 2014.

...Under the emerging plan, American conventional forces, focused on policing large parts of Afghanistan, will be the first to leave, while thousands of American Special Operations forces remain, making up an increasing percentage of the troops on the ground; their number may even grow.

Three things.

1) You just knew this whole new "combat mission ends in 2013, troops out by 2014" was election-year spin, didn't you?

2) This is yet another example of how special forces are becoming the mover-and-shaker of the military, with consequently rising budgetary and bureaucratic clout (as well as ever closer ties to the CIA, now run by SOF-fan General Petraeus.)

3) The Green Beret's real mission, no matter what is being said now, is going to turn into refereeing the next Afghan civil war.

With Afghanistan's three major political blocs and three major insurgent groups moving in opposite directions, the country is facing the prospect of total fragmentation. Here's the worst-case scenario: The U.S. military reaches a settlement with the Afghan Taliban that does not address the country's political future, Karzai holds on to power illegitimately while pressing for his own peace deal with the Taliban, non-Pashtuns rise in opposition to both Karzai and the Taliban, and the national security forces fracture along ethnic lines. At the same time, the three insurgent factions turn against one another as the Haqqani network exploits the chaos and maintains a rear defensive position in Pakistani safe havens. Meanwhile, Pakistan's own domestic Taliban resurges and Islamabad faces yet another wave of terrorism and Afghan refugees.

Arif Rafiq's plan to avoid this catastrophic scenario for Afghanistan involves "improving the quality, not the quantity, of the Afghan national army and police" and "the army professionalized to serve as a bulwark against fragmentation". He doesn't explicitly say so in his piece, but it's pretty obvious from there who could form the most stable government. Rafiq's course for Afghanistan most likely leads to a military junta running a U.S.-friendly dictatorship. We've plenty of experience at dealing with those.

February 04, 2012

Russia, China Veto Syria Resolution

By Steve Hynd

As expected by many, Russia and China have refused to back even a watered-down UNSC resolution on Syria, the only two of 15 member states on the council to vote against the resolution.

Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said after the vote that the United States was “disgusted” by the Russian and Chinese vetoes. The council has “been held hostage by a couple of members,” she said, adding that “these members stand behind empty arguments and individual interests while seeking to strip” any resolution of meaningful terms.

“A couple of members of this council remain steadfast in their willingness to sell out the Syrian people and shield a craven tyrant,” Rice said. She said Saturday’s action was even “more shameful” given Russia’s role in selling arms to Assad’s government.


[Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov] said that the resolution was impractical and unfair and voiced concern about adopting what he called “an absolutely unrealistic provision expecting that the government of Syria would withdraw from the cities and towns exactly at the time when the armed groups are taking over the quarters of those cities and towns.”

“We are not friends or allies of President Assad,” said Lavrov, who plans to visit Damascus on Tuesday. “We try to stick to our responsibilities as a permanent members of the Security Council, and the Security Council by definition does not engage in domestic affairs of member states.”

It seems to me there are two main reasons for the vetoes. The first is that of Of $8.2Billion in total arms sales to Syria since 2003, 98% came from Russia or China. The second is not unconnected with that venal motive: the initial wave of the Arab Spring provoked regime change in pro-US nations and both China and Russia were just fine with that, but the second upsurge of revolutionary fervor has been in nations that favored Russia and China, e.g. Yemen, Libya, Syria. Given the way in which Western nations twisted the UNSC resolution on Libya, which talked about separating fighting sides and an arms embargo, into bombing on behalf of the rebels and arming them, neither nation wants to set another precedent where regime change can masquerade as an R2P mission. This resolution was clearly a big step down that road and so it had to be vetoed.

So what next? Susan Rice was unusually blunt for a UN ambassador after the vote, saying that "the United States is disgusted that a couple of members of this Council continue to prevent us from fulfilling our sole purpose here-addressing an ever-deepening crisis in Syria and a growing threat to regional peace and security."

Were this 2002, we might expect some "coalition of the willing" would now be put together by the U.S. to take further steps up to and including military intervention, even without a UNSC imprimatur. But it isn't and Libya further increased international suspicion of R2P militarism. Thus Hillary Clinton is describing the Syrian best case scenario as "similar to what we see now in Yemen."



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Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth's Climate
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The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
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