Friday, June 27, 2008

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Information for all feed subscribers: There'll be no new articles for the next 4 weeks. After that, regular daily posting will resume, better than ever.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

China, Iran, and the Denuclearization of North Korea

IHT: U.S. to remove North Korea from terror list

As part of a denuclearization deal, North Korea today handed over 60 pages of information on its nuclear power and nuclear weapons program. The move was an important step in the process of the dismantlement of the North’s nuclear program. In return, President Bush announced that his administration would remove the country from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and end some sanctions ‘symbolically’.

As said above, this action was only a part of a major denuclearization deal. The agreement came as a result of direct negotiations with North Korea in early 2007 under a new policy from the Bush Administration. The previous policy had limited engagement with North Korea, and stressed isolation and sanctions. However, in 2006, the President defied hawks in his administration and enacted a new policy towards the North, launching full fledged talks with North Korea: 6 party negotiations between North Korea, the host China, the U.S., Japan, South Korea, and Russia. North Korea was slow with following through on its promises, but it eventually came through with today’s declaration of plutonium capabilities, which will be verified by the United States in the coming weeks.

Information not yet disclosed

Significantly, the North's declaration is not expected to disclose details on three critical points: the nuclear bombs the North has already produced; its alleged attempts to produce nuclear arms by secretly enriching uranium, which brought on the current crisis in 2002; and accusations that the North had helped Syria build a nuclear plant.

These details need to be disclosed as the next step in the denuclearization process. The information, especially on Syria, is vital

The role of China
From everything I’ve read, China has played a big role in getting Kim Jong-Il to agree to the denuclearization process. Some analysts have gone as far as to say that North Korea would not even have agreed to disarm if weren’t for Beijing. Let’s take a look at China’s motives for a second. Why would they be interested in getting rid of a key piece of leverage they could use against the United States? It comes down to regional stability. China is experiencing rapid economic growth, and it doesn’t want anything to slow it down. As well, Beijing doesn’t want anything to ruin its ‘coming out party’ at the Olympics in August. This has been seen even this week when China allowed a Japanese naval vessel to dock at its ports for the first time since WWII.

Moral of the story: one major reason denuclearization in North Korea has been possible is because of China.

The problem with denuclearization in Iran
North Korea shows us two problems with American policy towards Iran. One, we are not negotiating with the Iranian regime. Two, we have no partner in the region that has significant leverage over Tehran. Some might say, hey, Saudi Arabia could pressure Iran. But why would Riyadh want to? Sure, the country wants to prevent any new wars in the region that might disrupt their oil shipments. But besides that, tensions in the region are only good for Saudi Arabia. U.S.-Iranian tensions have only helped send oil prices to new highs.

So, why does it matter?
Well, it doesn’t really. I just wanted to point that out. But there is one significant lesson we can take from the North Korean denuclearization: negotiations work.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Prisoner Swap with Hezbollah, Truce in Gaza - Rumblings in the Middle East

CNN: Israeli Cabinet to consider swap with Hezbollah
BBC: Rockets ‘violated Gaza ceasefire’
Reuters: More indirect Israel, Syria talks in July


Israel has been negotiating on two and a half fronts recently. The first front is in the Palestinian territories, but specifically with Hamas in Gaza. The second and a half negotiations were with Hezbollah/Lebanon along with Syria.

Negotiations with Hamas have been ongoing since the 2006 abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and after the 2007 coup in which Hamas ousted its rival Fatah and took over the Gaza Strip. The eventual result was a ceasefire for Gaza which began Thursday. No one expected the truce to last long, however. That assertion was only confirmed today when Islamic Jihad militants launched rockets into southern Israel in retaliation for an Israeli air strike in the West Bank, which, if you don’t remember, is not part of the truce.

The second front has been much more interesting, not to mention more peaceful (albeit just for now, but we’ll get into that later). Israel and Syria have finally gotten around to having negotiations over the disputed Golan Heights that Israel captured in the 6 Day War. The talks, which are being mediated by the Turks, have not been completely endorsed by the U.S., which has complicated things, and even led one Israeli general to declare that there will be no deal with Syria until George Bush is out of office.

On the other half of that negotiating front is Lebanon and Hezbollah – Israel has opened up negotiations with both. Why include Lebanon/Hezbollah and Syria together? There can be no peace between Israel and Syria without involving Lebanon and Hezbollah, and there can be no peace between Israel and Hezbollah without involving Syria. Besides, Syria still has de facto control over many parts of the country. This is for many political, religious, and economic reasons, but it is also because Syria has a big hand in the actions of Hezbollah. Well, it appears Syria has given the go ahead for some peace between Israel and Hezbollah: a prisoner swap. Two soldiers captured in 2006 by Hezbollah would be traded for a rumored five Hezbollah guerrillas.

So, to sum up an unnecessarily long background:
- Israel is negotiating with Hamas for peace in Gaza and the return of a captured soldier
- Israel is negotiating with Syria over a peace agreement on the Golan Heights
- Israel is negotiating with Hezbollah, which is supported by Syria, for the return of two captured Israeli soldiers

Peace in Gaza

One thing not mentioned above was the almost imminent incursion that would have surely taken place if it hadn’t been for the ceasefire. Rocket fire had gone on for far too long without the Israeli government truly responding for most Israelis tastes. Therefore, Israel should take this truce as an opportunity to do three things: (a) prepare its military, if necessary, for an incursion; (b) bolster Fatah in the West Bank; (c) open up final peace negotiations with Hamas. If those negotiations failed, and rocket attacks resumed, options a and b would be ready for retaliation against Hamas

Peace in Lebanon

The prisoner swap should go through, and the United States needs to endorse a peace deal between Syria and Israel. Peace is in the interests of all the above countries – Israel would like peace and its ruling politicians any victories; a deal on the Golan Heights has been said to be the ‘number one foreign policy issue’ for Syria; and a peace deal between Israel and Syria would undermine American archenemy Iran.

Political turmoil in Israel
The ruling coalition in Israel has been hit by a number of corruption scandals. Early elections seem likely. However, early elections could put more extreme parties, including the Likud party of right wing hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu. Any successes in Lebanon, Syria, or the Palestinian territories would greatly bolster the current, moderate administration. That would be in our best interests.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Shiites Blamed for Bombing of Other Shiites - Iran?

Reuters: U.S. blames Shi'ite group ... for bombing and killing of 63 Shiites

Sure, it's easy to see they're trying to stir up sectarian violence. But if your sect is that important, why not blow up some Sunnis instead of your own Shiites? 3 possibilities:

1. It was accident.
2. Religion isn't as important in Iraq as it's made out to be. Or maybe the situation has evolved to that state.
3. The special Shiite cell was from Iran and didn't care so much for Iraqi Shiites.

Option 3 seems the most likely, for several reasons. See: Europe announces new Iranian sanctions during Bush visit

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Good News Around the World

Reuters: Donors pledge around $20 billion for Afghanistan

BBC: Major Guantanamo setback for Bush

Sorry for the lame post, but not much to say here but: good.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Oil Windfall Tax: A Good Idea

Reuters: Obama backs oil profits tax

After gas prices skyrocketed pass $4 last week, and as they continue to head up this week, some may have been hoping for a quick fix in the style of the (completely useless) economic stimulus some weeks ago. In response to those concerns today, Obama pledged to raise taxes on windfall oil profits if elected. This position would be politically unsustainable for the simple reason that nobody wants new taxes in a time of an economic downturn, so Obama appended to his position that he would "use the money to help families pay for their skyrocketing energy costs and other bills."

Several weeks ago, a bill was blocked by Republican opposition that would have repealed tax cuts for oil companies and instead used the 10-billion-something-dollars to pay for tax rebates for renewable energy.

A good idea

If the plan Obama has proposed was enacted in coordination with the repeal of tax cuts, it would be a good move for the economy of the U.S., our long term safety, and our long term economic outlook. The windfall tax profit would have help boost the economy through its profits, but, as well, would raise gas prices, as would the repeal of tax cuts. Though that may damage the economy in the short run, in the long run, it would save much time in effort. First, if gas prices were higher, hybrids, all electric cars, and renewable energy would look much more attractive to the average consumer. Second, if some of the pain of fighting global warming is felt now, it won’t be felt later, when it could come in a large burst after the approval of a cap and trade program.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Court Annuls Turkish Scarf Reform and the Trial of the AKP

BBC: Court annuls Turkish scarf reform


1918: The Ottoman Empire had crumbled. In its place was a much smaller, much weaker, much poorer state called ‘Turkey’. The nation was in chaos. Soon, a strong leader emerged: Ataturk. Cut through the crap and you will find Ataturk pushed through many reforms that westernized Turkey and made the country probably the most successful in the region, but most importantly for us, took Islam out of public life. The caliphate was ended, women were given more rights, and Ataturk even moved the Muslim holy day from Friday to Sunday.

In recent years, there has been a burst of political Islam in Turkey. The ruling AK Party is relatively conservative and religious, but no where near the extent as seen in Saudi Arabia, Iran or Iraq. One of the more controversial laws passed under the AK Party was a law that eased the ban on headscarves being worn by women at universities. The government argued that a headscarf ban stops many girls being educated; it is apparent, however, the Constitutional Court disagreed.

In a separate court case, a special prosecutor has challenged the secularism and therefore the legality of the existence of the AK Party. If the AK Party is banned, Turkey could be sent in to turmoil, as the party controls over 340 of the 550 Turkish parliamentary seats and controls the prime ministership and the presidency.

Secularism and the AKP
The overturn of the law is a victory for secularism in Turkey; however, the case against the AK Party is ludicrous. The disbandment of the AKP would empower the army, which is not the institution of freedom, especially in Turkey, to say the least. The AKP has pursued liberal policies, often times more liberal than those of the more secular parties. In fact, between 1996 and 2007, the Turkish public's desire for Sharia law went from 19% to 8%. As well, the end of the AK Party would mean chaos for Ankara. With a loss of such a huge number of in-office experienced officials could be permanently devastating.

It will suffice to say that the Constitutional Court of Turkey would be making a grave mistake if they were to ban the AK Party.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Another North-South Sudanese Conflict?

BBC: Armies ‘head for central Sudan’

Sudan has been a nation of conflict ever since it gained independence from Great Britain. First, it was the north versus the south. The south, which is mostly Christian and animistic, fought two incredibly bloody civil wars to gain autonomy from the government-controlling, Sharia law-imposing, Muslim and ‘more Arab’ north. The conflict finally ended in 2005 after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed, giving the South more autonomy and the possibility of secession after a referendum in 2011. However, more recently, genocide backed by Khartoum in the western region of Sudan, Darfur, has received much more media attention. That does not mean the conflict between the North and South did not continue – far from it.

Recent escalations have occurred after new fighting in Abyei, an oil rich region. Control over the region has been a major point of conflict between the North and the South since the peace agreement was signed.

What can be done?
Well, not a lot, sadly. Buy a hybrid!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Democratic Endgame

Reuters: Jimmy Carter set to endorse Obama
CNN: Clinton says she’s open to VP
AP: Clinton to concede delegate race
Reuters: Obama poised to claim victory

It appears that the final Democratic nomination endgame may be seen after tonight. The fate of one Obama is certain, while the future of the other Democratic candidate is much less clear.

The future of Hillary
It is unlikely Clinton will withdraw either today or tomorrow without having Obama and the Democratic National Committee answer some questions, some of which include:
- Her place in the Obama administration
- Her political future
- Her campaign debt

Let’s start with that last one. Clinton has about $20 million dollars in debt, some $11 million of which is her own money that she lent to her own campaign. What are her options for raising $20 million after her campaign has effectively ended? The easiest practice might be to pay back her creditors slowly in small payments. However, this would likely lose Clinton some credibility. One strategy that also has appeal would be to ask Obama’s 1.5 million donors to chip in, a gesture that would also promote Democratic Party unity. However, this isn’t how Obama wants to spending his money and using is donors. A third, possibly less legal option, would be to take the $22 million Clinton raised for the general election and to use to pay off her debts. Whatever the strategy, Clinton’s financial problems will be a difficult problem to solve.

Back to the first and second issues: will Clinton play a role in the Obama administration, and what will be her political future past that? Many of her supporters would like to see Hillary as veep, as, it appears, would Hillary. Nevertheless, there are a good number of Obama supporters that hate the idea. The conundrum for Senator Obama is that, as of now, it is likely many Clinton supporters won’t be voting for him in November. Clinton as veep would change that. Other ideas have included Hillary as Health Secretary, as to allow her to take the reigns of health care reform.

And then of course, there is the possibility that Clinton will stay in the race all the way to August and the convention, for primarily two very appealing reasons: Superdelegates could always change their minds in case of new skeletons out of Obama’s closet, and more time to pay off campaign debt.

Whatever Clinton decides to do, it is likely we will know in the next week. The hype from media will end, the political blogosphere can take a brake…Until the general election starts.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Syria to Allow IAEA Inspectors

Reuters: Syria to let in U.N. nuclear investigators: ElBaradei

This comes, in case one doesn’t remember, after last year’s mysterious bombing by Israel of an even more mysterious Syrian facility, which some in the West, including the United States, believe was a nuclear facility. Of course, Syria denies this charge. Another interesting point that should be known is that this comes in the middle of Israeli-Syrian negotiations.

Good idea
The Reuters article reports that officials from the IAEA (the U.N. nuclear watchdog) will be visiting not only the site that was bombed, but also 2 or three other sites. Interesting…

Anyway, this can only be a good thing, as long as the IAEA does its job thoroughly.