Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Russia Toughens Stance on Iran - Why?

Reuters: Russia warns Iran over nuclear program

This is a strange move of sorts from Russia. The Kremlin has always been reluctant to impose sanctions on Iran, and have been only more reluctant since the infamous National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear capabilities came out at the end of last year. Why the change in the position?

Recent events
Did any recent events provoke Russi into making this move?
Kosovo independence (and Russia’s inability to prevent it)?
• Upcoming Russian elections?
• The recently released IAEA Iran report (which eased some pressure on Iran)?

None of these events seem a likely impetus for Russia’s actions, for mostly obvious reasons:
• Why would Russia want another geopolitical loss after Kosovo?
• Putin is expected to stay in power in elections anyway.
• The IAEA report made Iran look like the good guy.

Another possibility
It is quite possible the White House made a deal with Russia and Putin to move forward with sanctions. The details such a compromise would entail can only be guessed at.

Russia looking to provoke Iran?
Though this is more of a conspiracy theory like idea, it cannot be ruled out. The U.S. and Iran have been engaged in talks for a while now, and could be nearing a deal. By threatening to agree to new sanctions, the former superpower could turn up the heat on Iran, which could aggravate Iran, causing Tehran to cancel any deal it might have worked out with the U.S.

What should the U.S. do?
The U.S. has a fairly easy decision to make, from my point of view. If talks with Iran are producing results, sanctions should be delayed. If talks are going no where, hat tip Moscow and pursue further sanctions.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

BREAKING: Nader to Run for President

And once again, he announced on Meet the Press. What will this mean for the current candidates? How much will the media overblow the whole thing?

It's widely believed Nader doesn't have as wide of a following as he used to. He could gain some momentum if Hillary Clinton is nominated, but otherwise, it is likely he will have a minimal effect on the election.

More detailed analysis later.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Russia to Cut Off Energy to Europe?

One possible Russian response to Kosovo independence that I completely left out of my analysis yesterday was the possibility that Russia could cut off energy to Europe. This strategy has been employed before and is shown to be effective.

Putin might decide against this response because of the possible repercussions.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Kosovo Independence: Russia-Serbia Relations and Russian Reaction

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on Sunday, ending months of waiting. The U.S. and most other NATO nations already have or will to recognize the nation as a sovereign state. This has all been expected for months, but there are multiple variables that could change, all depending on the reaction of one country: Russia.

Background – Putin’s interest in the region

The Russian government has let the world know that it does not approve of an independent Kosovo. But why does Russia even have an interest in the region? To understand we need to travel back to rough times in Russia.

Vladimir Putin took over the Russian Federation just before the turn of the twentieth century, after the economically devastating rule of President Gorbachev. Russia was weak, and the citizens of Russia didn’t like it. They had been the strongest nation on Earth, in power with the United States, for 50 years. And they wanted that prestige and influence back. Russia was sliding down a nasty slope.

So along comes Putin. The former KGB agent is ‘elected’, and takes hold of the Russian Bear, stops it, and swings it around in the opposite direction. Well, that is what he would have you think. It will suffice to say that during Putin’s reign, life for the average Russian improved. With the improvement of the everyday Russian’s life, so came improvements for Russia’s power abroad. The country is once again strong, and still getting stronger.

The Russian bear has once again gained enormous influence over its satellites. It has gained much of this power by promising to protect its satellites and their interests better than the West can. This strategy has been the central doctrine of Moscow’s regional policy since Putin took power.

Along comes Serbia. Although never part of the U.S.S.R., Serbia, deep in Eastern Europe, has always fallen under Russian influence. Essentially, Russia wants Serbia to look to Russia for help rather than the West. This is why Russia has been against Kosovoan independence. If the Russians can successfully stop the West from allowing Kosovo to secede from Serbia, Russia looks stronger than the West.

In other words, Vladimir is proving himself (and Russia) to Serbia. But Russia is not only demonstrating its recently regained influence to Serbia; Putin has staked a great deal of his political reputation on stopping Kosovo from gaining independence. He is proving Russia’s power to the rest of the world.

Russia’s reaction
100 hours have passed since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. So far, we have seen a limited reaction from Russia; nothing more than more diplomatic protests than usual. Russia doesn’t have a wide range of choices. Military action is an unlikely possibility because of geographic problems and for geopolitical reasons. A trade embargo would seem to be likely, but would be totally ineffective. Of course, Moscow could declare a trade embargo anyways, in a largely symbolic move. But other than that, Putin has three moves.

Two breakaway regions in Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, could be recognized as independent or even absorbed by Russia. The two nation’s desire for independence has long been backed by Moscow, and Georgia has always been a thorn right on the border of Russia. Half of the country swallowed up by another would surely cause disruption. Russia would point to this action and say, hey, if you can change borders, so can you.

A second strategy might involve disrupting the West’s interests. In retaliation for the recognition of Kosovo, Russia could create problems at the United Nations Security Council. A potential target could be the third round of sanctions for Iran. This is the most likely Russian response.

This third approach is the most bizarre: do nothing. Putin has known the independence would come, and there’s not a lot he can do about it. If he were to stand back and watch the United States and the European Union control the situation, it would be very, very bad geopolitically for Moscow. They would look horrendously weak in front of the former Soviet Union, the West, and the rest of the world.

What should the U.S. do?
Now that Kosovo has been recognized, the United States no problems besides Russia. If Russia’s actions can be successfully contained, this whole Kosovo incident can be a good memory for everyone. Well, except for the Russians of course.

The United States has the most worry at the U.N.; that is where the most damage would be taken, and Russia’s most likely reaction. How can the U.S. prevent this damage from being taken? The Bush Administration will have to make concessions in other areas if they wish for the Iranian sanctions to pass.

A smarter strategy might have been adopted before Kosovo declared independence: pass sanctions before Kosovo declared independence.

It doesn’t matter now. It is time to look forward, and to develop a new strategy for dealing with the Russians in Eastern Europe.

Good News: Sadr to Extend Ceasefire?

Sources tell Reuters that "powerful Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is expected to extend a six-month ceasefire by his Mehdi Army militia."

This is great news. Moqtada al-Sadr's peacefire has been one of the reasons the surge has had such military success.

If he doesn't extend the ceasefire
If Sadr decides to end the ceasefire, contrary to Reuter's anonymous source's beliefs, the effect could be devastating.

Shiite on Shiite violence would flare up, as would Shiite on Sunni. New chaos would only slow the already snail-paced political action.

But why would Sadr want to reextend the truce?
A couple of reasons:
1. The U.S.
The United States has kept up pressure militarily and politically to hold Sadr down. The surge was one of the key reasons the Shiite cleric called for the ceasefire; once it began winding down, Sadr could have expected to be able to end his truce and not have to worry about too many Americans. There was a change: Defense secretary Robert Gates came out last month and said troop withdrawals could stop in the spring. This has probably given Sadr a lot to think about.
2. The Iraqi government
The Iraqi government has also kept up the pressure on al Sadr.
3. The Iraqi people
Let’s give the guy the benefit of the doubt: he’s looking for a peaceful solution without having too many casualties.
4. Iran
This, in my opinion, is the most interesting force possibly pushing al-Sadr to continue the cessation of hostilities. The U.S. and Iran have been having talks over Iraq for quite a while now, but no news has made it out of the talks. Have the two countries struck some sort of a deal? Even if they haven’t, is Iran looking to make a deal and holding al-Sadr back so one can be made?

It’s possible.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Clinton Attacks Obama... For No Reason

I'm sure most everybody reading this has heard that Clinton has accused Obama of plagiarizing MA governor Deval Patrick's speeches.

Even as a Clinton supporter, I am disgusted, and there are a few things I must point out:

  • Obama and Patrick are good friends. I wouldn't be surprised if they did this regularly.
  • What does Clinton gain by attacking him in this way? Nothing.
  • Who cares? Criticize him for his policy details, would you? Not his speeches.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Why Romney Endorsed McCain

Reuters: Romney endorses McCain

Couldn’t be anymore expected. Just to state the obvious a little bit here, Romney’s looking for the VP nod.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Who Killed Imad Mughniyeh?

A quick list of possibilities:
1. The Mossad
Motive: Revenge; to stop him from carrying out any more attacks.

2. The CIA
Motive: Revenge; to stop him from carrying out any more attacks.

3. A rival Hizbollah member
Motive: To move up on the Hizbollah political ladder.

Stay tuned for more.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Critique of Barack Obama

Joe Klein, a writer for Time Magazine that I like very much, published this critique of Barack Obama last week. The whole article is worth a read: Inspiration vs. Substance

Obama's strength is inspiration, and it's also his weakness. In the recent past, Democrats have favored candidates who offer meaty, detailed policy prescriptions — usually to the party's detriment — and that is not Obama's game. After his Iowa victory, his stump speech had become a soufflé untroubled by much substance of any sort. He has rectified that, to some extent. He now spends some time talking about the laments of average Americans he has met along the way; then he dives into a litany of solutions he has proposed to address the laments. But those are not nearly so convincing as Clinton's versions of the same; of course, Clinton has a tragic deficit when it comes to inspiration.

There is an odd, anachronistic formality to Obama's stump speech: it is always the same. It sets his audiences afire, but it does not reach very far beyond them. It is no accident that Obama is nearly invincible in caucus states, where the ability to mobilize a hard core of activists is key — but not so strong in primaries, where more diverse masses of people are involved. He should be very worried that this nomination is likely to be decided in the big working-class primary states of Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Clinton Endorsement Part 2: The Issues

After my endorsement last week of Hillary Rodham Clinton, I was criticized (rightfully) for not going into the issues enough about why I support Clinton.

Clinton and Obama’s policies have very little differences. It some of the finer details on foreign policy I have concerns with.

Anyway, here are my doubts about Obama in full:
• His position on Iraq (would he pull out too many troops too soon?)
• His foreign policy (would he really sit down with foreign leaders his first year in office face to face?)
• Will he be able to stand up to Republican attacks?
• Will he be able to stand up to rising world powers: Russia, China, and Iran who will take advantage of him if he shows the slightest sign of weakness?
• Will he bring in too many new people? (New people are not necessarily what we need; we need to keep some of the same people who learned first hand our mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

Of course, I have plenty of doubts about Clinton as well:
• Her electability
• Her decisiveness
• Fine details of her policy positions
Clinton's negatives have to do less with the issues, and more with her electability (which, on a separate note, is giving me doubts about her).

NOTE: I would be happy with Obama as a nominee. I just would prefer Clinton, overall. And of course, as I said in my last post, I would much rather have Bloomberg than Clinton or Obama.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Why I am Voting Clinton – And Not Voting Obama

Considering tomorrow I vote, it’s time to make an endorsement. It’s going to Hillary Clinton.

Reason 1 – The (foreign policy) issues
I prefer Hillary Clinton’s positions to those of Barack Obama’s. I disagree with Mike Gravel’s positions so much that I won’t even mention his name in the rest of this article.

Clinton has superior reasoning on nearly every major issue. Her positions on social issues may be slightly different than mine, but the president does not control domestic issues: Congress does.

Instead, the president controls foreign policy and the military. Therefore, those are the most important issues in the presidential contest. Barack Obama doesn’t understand international issues as well as Clinton does. He would rather see the U.S. as a weaker state abroad; Clinton knows that the U.S. must sometimes project its power.

Reason 2 – Hope is not as important as the issues

As Massachusetts legislator Salvatore F. DiMasi put it, "To be perfectly honest, I really don't want my president to be in there in a learning process for the first six months to a year. It's too important."

DiMasi understands what he is saying too well. Both he and I live in Massachusetts, and in 2006 elected black Democrat Deval Patrick to be governor. He ran mostly on the issue of hope, much like Barack Obama. Once in office Patrick quickly came under fire for several personal scandals, and is now facing opposition to his political plans.

Hope and promise of change is not enough of a reason to be elected. You need smart positions on the issues.

Reason 3 – Clinton will get things done
Hillary Clinton has experienced professionals who will get things done and will be able to whether Republican attacks. Obama, on the other hand, will bring in new people. New people are not what we need. We need to build off of the experiences that we’ve had in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the rest of the Middle East. Obama will also not be able to stand up to Republican attacks.

The candidate I’d prefer – Michael Bloomberg

I’d so much prefer Bloomberg over Clinton any day. Why? Two primary reasons. First of all, Bloomberg doesn’t come with as much partisan baggage as Clinton would come with. Second, Bloomberg might as well be me; nearly all of his positions are the exact same as mine. He wants a carbon tax, is relatively liberal but recognizes we can’t abandon Iraq, and more. Draft Bloomberg!

Thanks for the comments everybody. I was more than a little lazy than explaining the issues - tiring week.

Iraq specifically is the issue I think of. There are of course other issues (Obama's weakness on dealing with Iran, for example), but Iraq represents the rest of their foreign policy positions.

Clinton recognizes somewhat that we cannot abandon Iraq to chaos, while Obama would be more likely to cave to the far left and pull out ASAP.