Sunday, October 28, 2007

Gaza Under Siege

Israel has confirmed that fuel supplies to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip have been reduced, and two of the three major border crossings have been closed. The latter is intended to limit the type and quantity of supplies that can enter Gaza from Israel. In effect, Israel has placed the territory under a state of limited siege in response to over a thousand rockets and mortar shells launched at Israel from Gaza in the last four months. (New York Times: Israel Reduces Fuel to Gaza, Closes Crossing).

Hamas, the de facto government in Gaza, does not recognize Israel's right to exist, and their official charter calls for the complete elimination of Israel. Efforts to negotiate a peace between Israel and Hamas have been fruitless, thus Israel's latest decisions to limit energy and supplies into the territory.

For any siege of Gaza to work, there must be some measure of cooperation from the US and NATO. To the east, Gaza is completely surrounded by Israel, however to the west it borders the Mediterranean Sea. Supplies could theoretically reach Gaza from the Med, although it's unlikely that any of the NATO countries there would allow it.

This latest action by Israel is part of the much larger dance between the US and Iran. Hamas is supported, supplied, and financed by Iran, so any pressures place on the Gaza are likewise felt in Tehran. Indeed, support for Hamas coupled with support for the insurgency in Iraq has stretched Iran pretty thin economically. The timing of this latest economic squeeze by Israel would appear to signal some measure of cooperation with Washington, coming right on the heels of additional economic sanctions against Iran having been announced by the US.

The stakes on both fronts are the same. Hamas seeks the destruction of Israel and has been mounting rocket attacks from Gaza for years. Iran also publicly seeks the destruction of Israel and is, at least according to the US and the IAEA, actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program. The biggest loser should Iran succeed in that effort would certainly be Israel. So cooperation between Israel and the US in the global struggle with Iran does make sense. The unanswered questions are how far Israel is willing to go in throttling the Gaza, and how Tehran plans to increase their aid to Hamas to prevent that government's collapse.

In the meantime, it's important to realize that this struggle is indeed part of the broader conflict with Iran. The more pressure Israel can put on Hamas, the more it helps our cause in the economic sparring currently taking place further east. Now more than ever we need to support Israel's efforts in the Gaza. Those efforts are certainly tied to our own efforts elsewhere in the region.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cuban Policy Still a Failure

After some 45 years, US policy towards Cuba remains unchanged. We have had no diplomatic relations since the early 1960s, and we've had harsh economic sanctions in place since at least the Bay of Pigs Invasion. In a speech at the State Department this week, President Bush reiterated our hard-line stance against the isolated island and once again called for a Democratic process to be enacted in the communist regime. (Time: A Hard Line on Cuba.)

This is a familiar refrain, of late. Imposition of sanctions, severing contact with the government, and a call for Democratic reform have been our MO for the past 7 years. You'd think we'd have learned by now that the aforementioned combination simply doesn't work. We've had sanctions in place against Cuba for 45 years. The only thing that will remove Castro from office, though, will be old age. Not suprisingly, sanctions have proven ineffective in dealing with Cuba.

We had sanctions in place against Iraq for over a decade as well. Those sanctions didn't work either, and culminated in the US lead invasion of Iraq four years ago. Sanctions are now in place against Iran - with even harsher sanctions announced today - and there's no reason to believe they'll work this time either. Economic sanctions, especially unilateral sanctions, are about the least effective diplomatic tool in the arsenal, yet we insist on imposing them time and time again.
The other diplomatic ploy that appears popular is the severance of diplomatic relations. If a nation does something you don't like, well, just withdraw your ambassador and refuse to talk to them. That'll get them to change their minds, right? Well, not exactly. Refusing to have discussions with any nation has never accomplished anything. Fortunately, we didn't take that attitude with the USSR throughout the Cold War, since dialogue throughout that period was essential in both our efforts to avoid disaster.

When it comes to nations we don't like such as North Korea, Iran, and Cuba, however, refusing to have a dialog appears to be the strategy of choice. I'm mindful of the words of wisdom imparted by Stephen Hopkins, Rhode Island's signer of the Declaration of Independence, who reputedly said, "I've never heard of an issue that was so dangerous you couldn't talk about it." He had a point. Diplomacy doesn't work without dialog, yet that's the tactic we chose consistently.

The final trend that really concerns me is this effort to impose democracy around the world. Democracy isn't something you can impose on a people. It has to be a philosophy they embrace, and it has to be a natural evolution stemming from the form of government with which they are most familiar. Supporting nations that choose to implement a democracy of their own accord is laudable. Trying to impose it, however, is ludicrous.

Now, the political rhetoric throughout the Cold War certainly was one of promoting democracy. The difference, though, is that during the Cold War we never acted on it. Today, we seem bound and determined to impose democracy whether or not the nations in question actually want it. That policy backfired in the Palestinian territories with the free election of Hamas into a position of power. A democracy in Pakistan would result in a fundamentalist government sympathetic to al Qaeda. A democracy in Iraq, besides being impractical, would likely result in the election of Shiite extremists with close ties to Iran. Are we really sure this is what we want to promote?

So now we return to the question of Cuba. Sanctions didn't work. Political and economic isolation didn't work. Efforts to destabilize Castro's regime didn't work. Perhaps we should try something different. How about actually opening up full trade with Cuba? Has it not occurred to anyone that the influx of US capital in the form of tourist, manufacturing, and agricultural dollars would very quickly topple any communist tendencies remaining on the island? Imagine a Cuba lined with American cruise ships. How long do you think it would take them to adopt a capitalist mentality?

Cuba is not a threat to the US, but they could be an economic gold mine. All it will take is the courage to discard the childish "I'm not talking to you" mentality that has plagued our foreign policy since the Cuban Missile Crisis. It costs us nothing to remove the sanctions against Castro, and we have a lot to gain should we do it. There comes a time when one must abandon failed policies, and this would be a great time to do just that with regards to Cuba. It's also time to learn from those failures and avoid repeating them with Iran. I fear we're heading down the same dead-end path there with much more at stake.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Space Race Part Two

China launched its first lunar probe today, sending a clear signal that the new Space Race is now underway. The Chinese Chang'e-1 rocket is expected to reach lunar orbit on November 5. China is not the only newcomer in the race to establish a lunar colony, however. Japan placed a probe in lunar orbit several weeks ago, and India has announced plans to launch a lunar probe in April 2008. Ironically, the countries that are falling behind in this new space race are the two original competitors, the US and Russia. (CNN: Chinese rocket blasts off to moon).

The Soviet launch of Sputnik triggered the first space race, seen by the US and USSR as both politically and militarily necessary. Unfortunately, interest in continuing the exploitation of space resources waned following the series of successful US lunar landings in the 1970s. Since then, the US and Russian manned space programs have essentially floundered without purpose or cause with little progress being made in close to 30 years.

All of this is about to change, and once again the target is the moon. Now before anyone dismisses a lunar base as too expensive and scientifically irrelevant, consider both the nations against which we are competing and the real reasons behind that competition. From both an economic and a military standpoint, we cannot afford to have China, India, or Japan - let alone Russia - establish the first successful lunar colonies. It's essential for the US to establish that beachhead while forcing the rest to vie for second place.

First and foremost, there are serious energy considerations that are driving the new race to the moon. The lunar surface is believed to be a major source of Helium-3, an isotope of Helium that has only one neutron instead of two. Helium-3 is rare on earth, but is considered an excellent fuel source for nuclear fusion and is believed to be in abundance on the moon. Better still, it's considered environmentally friendly since the nuclear reaction involving that isotope does not produce any radioactive waste. Controlling the lunar Helium-3 resources puts any nation in the driver's seat when it comes to securing a 21st century energy solution.

Secondly, and equally important, are the military advantages inherent in a lunar base. While there are treaties between the US and Russia pertaining to the non-militarization of space, those treaties do not apply to the current crop of contestants. In fact, it was China that used a land-based missile to destroy an old satellite in orbit last January in a move that sent shock waves through the military communities around the world. Establishing a permanent base on Earth's nearest neighbor is a military necessity.

What is of most concern today is the current lackluster attitude in the US towards returning to the moon. NASA has been on the political defensive for several years thanks to a less-than-impressive safety record in the manned program and a relatively poor batting average with unmanned probes. Current lunar mission plans have us trailing China by at least a decade, and there does not seem to be any desire either within NASA or the US Congress to prioritize manned lunar missions to any great extent.

We're missing the boat, and what's at stake this time is far more critical than anything we faced in 1969. We need to secure a lunar base before any of our economic or military rivals. It's essential for our national security, and it's essential for our economic security. We've just spent the last 70 years overly dependent on foreign powers for our energy needs. Let's not repeat that mistake. Let's ensure that we are in control of the 21st century energy sources, and the way to do that is to ensure our control of the Helium-3 reserves on the lunar surface.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Obama Too Busy to Vote

Last month, the US Senate passed a resolution urging the State Department to declare Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. The vote passed the Senate 76-22 as a non-binding amendment to the Defense Authorization Act. (CNN Politics: Obama: Clinton's vote for Iran measure repeats Iraq mistake.)

Since the 2008 Presidential campaign is apparently already in full swing, it seems only natural that the resolution would become political fodder for the throngs of candidates slavering over primary votes. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) drew first blood criticizing Democratic rival Hillary Clinton (D-NY) for voting for the initiative. Obama views the vote as potentially authorizing the use of force against Iran, something the Senate does not intend to signal right now.

Now, I've avoided discussions of the candidates to date, and I intend to continue to avoid such a discussion with thirteen months remaining before the general election. I'm pretty sick of the rhetoric already, and we still have more than a year to go, so we'll leave the discussion of the candidates for another post. Rather, I want to focus on something Senator Obama said on this issue that is really an indictment against the entire campaign process.

According to CNN reports, Senator "Obama said he would have voted against the measure but didn't because he was campaigning in New Hampshire at the time."

Let's think about that for a second. We have a US Senator concerned that a vote on a specific amendment could be used to justify military action against another nation, but that Senator skipped the vote to continue a presidential campaign in New Hampshire for a primary that is still three months away. In the Senator's own words, "This is a problem related to running for president."

Indeed it is. The campaign nonsense has gotten to the point where candidates for president are now spending two years campaigning. If those candidates happen to be US Senators, then they are spending a solid third of their term in office running for a different office. Fortunately, they're not Congressmen who only serve a two year term!

This single vote on this single issue is only the tip of the iceberg. Look at the amount of money spent on each of the campaigns to date. Look at the amount of time already devoted to televised debates for candidates of both parties. Look at the nonsensical jockeying between states to hold the first primaries - a leap frog competition that now has the first caucuses and primaries in January, a full eleven months before the general election.

Our campaign process has spun completely out of control. We have reached the point where only multi-millionaires are capable of running for President and where the final list of candidates is determined not by issues but rather by how much money their campaign has been able to raise. We've reached a saturation point with the electorate whereby the average voter is disgusted with all candidates months, if not a year, before the election is even held.

It's time to leash this beast. It's time to limit the duration of the campaigns, and it's more than time to limit the amount of money that can be spent during the campaign. You see, I recently had a debate with a colleague over whether or not India was the largest Democracy in the world, and the same debate is valid here. My contention is that it takes more than free elections to constitute a Democracy. It also takes opportunity. It takes opportunity for all citizens to be able to participate, and that's what we have lost.

I can remember as a young child my parents telling me the biggest difference between the US and the Evil Red Empire across the sea (the Soviet Union). In the US, they explained, anyone can grow up to be President. That is the opportunity I'm talking about, but it's an opportunity no longer available in the US. Anyone with a multi-million dollar bankroll can be President, but for the average person with more common sense than financially sound genes, well, they haven't a chance.

That's what I think of when I read Senator Obama's comments about missing a vote while campaigning. I think of a campaign process that has overwhelmed our Democratic process. We need to regain control of the campaign season. We need to reestablish the boundaries set by common sense before our politicians make that final leap into the realm of professional campaign artists rather than professional legislators.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Iraq Concerned Over US Military Presence

In yet another twist of irony in the soap opera that is Iraq, the Iraqi Parliament is considering a resolution to request UN restrictions on US military action. The resolution comes on the heels of a US raid in Sadr City where Iraq alleges 13 civilians were killed. According to Parliament, the US used too much force when responding to attacks on allied troops despite military claims that 49 insurgents were killed in the clash. (LA Times: Iraqi leaders may ask U.N. to restrict U.S. military.)

The irony is that the Iraqi Parliament only exists because of the presence of US troops in the region. Remove our troops and the first casualty will be the ragtag remnants of the impotent Iraqi government. In the grand scheme of things, the conflict between the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds is well beyond the scope of the existing Iraqi government to handle. Without a strong US presence, that conflict will boil over and the existing Iraqi government will fade into the recesses of history.

A major part of the problem we face in Iraq, and one of the major reasons why my support for the way we are prosecuting this war has waned, is because we are not using the force needed to secure the region. The Iraqi Parliament may think that our force is excessive, but the truth is we're being far too gentle. That, after all, is the advantage the insurgency has in the region, and it's why a conventional force always faces extreme difficulties in attempting to defeat any insurgency. Simply put, the insurgents are willing to do things we are not, and as a result the local population fears them far more than they fear us.

Since the artificial borders were drawn in that region a century ago, what has held the conflicting factions together has been an iron fist. In recent years, that iron fist was Saddam Hussein and his sons. Once that threat was eliminated and it became clear that the US would not brutalize the people in the same fashion, the region devolved into the factional, tribal chaos that we see today.

What it boils down to is that we recognize civilian casualties as something to avoid at all costs. The enemy does not. Until we are willing to adopt that same callous attitude towards civilians in the unstable regions, the insurgents will continue to have the upper hand. Yes, I know that sounds harsh, but establishing a measure of brutality in our policy towards stabilization is what it will take to get the job done. If we're not willing to do that - and I fear we are not - then there is not much point in continuing.

The fallacy of establishing a peaceful, working Democracy in Iraq is just that - a fallacy. There is only one thing that can replace the brutal dictator Iraq had in the person of Saddam Hussein and that is another brutal dictator. Imposing a Democracy there is neither practical nor desirable. Neither is it a valid use of US troops.

So there you have it. Either do what needs to be done, as harsh as that sounds, or back off and allow the factions to fight it out among themselves. We can always deal with whichever groups emerge victorious, but if we're not going to do what we need to do in order to establish control over the region, then there's no point in sitting in the middle of the ring. Focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan, keep an eye on Iran to keep them on their own side of the Iraqi border, but stay out of the civil war that is simmering just beneath the surface in Iraq.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Ali Larijani Resigns Diplomatic Post

On the surface, the resignation of Ali Larijani, Iran's chief nuclear policy negotiator, may be viewed as the culmination of irreconcilable differences between the moderate diplomat and Iran's hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In Iran, however, things are rarely what they seem on the surface. (LA Times: Iran's chief nuclear negotiator resigns.)

This is not the first time Larijani has tendered his resignation over frustration's with Ahmadinejad's "no compromise" position. It is, however, the first time Ahmadinejad has accepted his resignation, and that may be the most telling clue of all. Certainly, Iran's official position has not wavered. They intend to pursue a nuclear energy capability, and they continue to assert that their intentions are for peaceful purpose without any desire to produce weapons grade plutonium. Larijani, in his two years of negotiations with the IAEA, Russia, the EU, and the US, has consistently sought a more moderate position. It's that fundamental difference that has frustrated him all along and that has prompted his resignation on several different occasions.

What is significant now is that Ahmadinejad accepted the resignation, removing the one moderate diplomat from the negotiating table. This leaves Iran's hard-line no compromise position as the only one on their side of the offer board. It must beg the question, "why now?". Continued diplomacy, continued negotiations with all parties, was definitely in Iran's favor. The longer Iran could keep the West bottled up at the negotiating table, the longer they would have to develop the nuclear program they truly desired.

Over the course of the past year, Iran has rapidly increased their enrichment capabilities. Cooperation with Russia has likewise increased, almost in direct proportion. The underlying concern with Larijani's resignation is the possible signal that diplomacy is no longer required for Iran to achieve it's goal. It may also signal that Iran has now achieved it, and is capable today of producing weapons grade plutonium.

What Larijani's resignation does is push us that much closer to military action. Once the diplomatic option is no longer being pursued - and it takes a moderate on the Iranian side of the table to keep that option viable - then either Israel or the US will have no choice but to take action. Ahmadinejad certainly knows that, so we must once again question why he chose to make this move now.

If this is a calculated gambit to call our bluff, he may come out ahead in the deal. There's no support in the US right now for military action in Iran, and with the difficulties in Iraq we're not positioned for any long-term action that could result from surgical strikes against the Iranian facilities. As I've discussed in other posts, any strike against Iran must include measures to secure the Straits of Hormuz and to ensure the continued flow of oil. Right now, we'll be hard-pressed to do that without diverting necessary forces away from their missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

If this is a gambit to call Israel's bluff, however, all bets are off. Coming fast on the heals of Israel's strike against Syria, I would not be too eager to present them with another attractive target. Israel is not at all concerned about the flow of oil to Europe through the Straits of Hormuz and does not share the US concerns about the economic impacts of a strike against Iran. Ahmadinejad may be tugging on Israel's tail at the moment, but that may prove to be a fatal error.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

US Between Kurds and a Hard Place

Following a series of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) terrorist style attacks against Turkish troops north of the Iraqi border, Turkey is putting pressure on the US to deal forcefully with the PKK problem. The not-so-veiled threat is clear. If the US does not deal with the PKK, then Turkey will. Indeed, the Turks are under a tremendous amount of internal pressure to respond forcefully, and it is only out of concerns for the political implications with NATO that has caused Turkey to hold back to date. (Reuters: Turkish PM says expects U.S. to act against PKK.)

If anyone other than Turkey does deal with the problem, it will have to be the US. Baghdad has very little influence over the Kurdish controlled territories which have been largely autonomous since the first Gulf War ended over a decade ago. The US, however, is already spread thin dealing with the Sunni and Shiite instability further south and can ill afford to get embroiled in a region that has been relatively stable since the Iraq war began. Indeed, the Kurdish territories have been lauded as a prime example of a successful Democracy in Iraq, so calls for US action against the Kurds leaves Washington in a very awkward position.

The political leverage, unfortunately, is now on the side of Turkey, thanks to the ill conceived House committee resolution calling the 1915 Armenian slayings "genocide". The US is now on the defensive with our closest Middle Eastern ally and may be forced to deal with the Kurdish situation simply as a means to smooth the ruffled feathers in Ankara. These are the consequences of foolhardy meaningless resolutions that have neither weight nor purpose.

Turkey did not rule out joint operations with the Iraqi military to deal with the PKK, however even that measure of cooperation between the current Iraqi government and Ankara would serve to destabilize the north. With increasing calls at home to remove US troops from Iraq, an impending presidential and congressional election in the US that will focus heavily on our strategy in Iraq, and with virtually all US allies announcing troop withdrawals over the coming year, the last thing we can afford is the unification of the Kurds against the current Iraqi government. We simply don't have the resources in the theater to deal with a third outbreak of hostility.

So we truly are between the Kurds and a hard place. Turkey is right in their assertion that the PKK terror activities must be curbed. They are also correct in their belief that only the US can deal with it from the Iraqi side of the border. The timing, however, is miserable, and that fact is not lost on the PKK. The unfortunate reality is that we may well have to allow Turkey to deal with the problem on their own with our blessing. There will likely be little left of the Kurdish population in Iraq and Turkey if that happens, but quite frankly I don't see how the US can afford to be distracted into dealing with a border situation in the north. We've enough problems in the south. The solution, however distasteful, is simple. Give Turkey the IFF codes and let them deal with the problem. Just be prepared for a new resolution coming out of the House.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Pakistan Nearing the Brink

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's return from a self-imposed exile was marred by two bomb blasts in a failed assassination attempt yesterday. Most experts agree that the attacks were likely the handiwork of al Qaeda and Taliban terror groups hoping to thwart Bhutto's entry into the 2008 parliamentary elections. (USA Today: Bhutto blames al-Qaeda, Taliban for 136 deaths.)

The former PM received intelligence reports prior to her arrival in Pakistan that pointed to the likelihood of suicide attacks against her. She also received reports of insiders in President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's government that may be working with the al Qaeda extremists. Bhutto has been attempting to work with Musharraf to build a political alliance in time for the January elections.

Yesterday's attacks point to the precariousness of the political situation in Pakistan. Musharraf has been under siege for some time, politically, and has survived several assassination attempts of his own. Given the strength of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan, it seems only a matter of time before one of these attempts succeeds. Of yesterday's incident, Bhutto stated that, "It was an attack by a militant minority that does not enjoy the support of the people of Pakistan, that has only triumphed in a military dictatorship."

That may not be a very accurate assessment. Al Qaeda and the Taliban both have a very high degree of support in Pakistan. Al Qaeda maintains numerous bases and training camps in the region, and Osama bin Laden is viewed as a local hero. It is Musharraf's government that does not enjoy the full support of the people of Pakistan, and that is what has pushed Pakistan to the brink.

The greatest danger we face in Pakistan is the replacement of Musharraf's regime with a fundamentalist Islamic extremist government. That is the goal of both al Qaeda and the Taliban, and unfortunately they may be only a suicide attack away from succeeding. An extremist government in Pakistan means a nuclear armed Taliban both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. It also means a nuclear armed al Qaeda capable of dealing more damage in the west than has ever been conceived. That is what is at stake in Pakistan.

While we spend out time blustering against Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Afghanistan; while we spend our time verbally sparring with Vladimir Putin, the real powder keg is Pakistan. We were asleep at the wheel when Pakistan developed nuclear weapons capabilities, however we cannot afford to doze off again while these critical events play out in the struggle for control of the Pakistani military and government. What happens over the next few months in Pakistan will likely effect the free world for years to come. Let's be sure we keep our eye on the ball this time around.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

India Likely to Scuttle Nuke Deal

Every cloud does indeed have a silver lining. While the quiet announcement that India is close to rejecting a nuclear trade deal with the US is a major source of disappointment for the Bush Administration, rejection of the deal is most certainly in the long-term best interests of the US. The nuclear pact would have established a framework resulting in the trade of nuclear reactors, technology, and fuel between the US and India, ultimately establishing the US as the primary supplier of nuclear fuel to that region. (Washington Post: Nuclear Deal With India May Be Near Collapse.)

Political forces in India have grown to the point where such a deal with the US is all but dead. There is a very large anti-west sentiment in large sections of the country, and this nuclear deal appeared to many to be pushing India too close to the US. In some northern India states which I visited recently, there is even an "anti-English" movement growing in strength, establishing a link between the English language and colonialism, something that is still a sore point in India some 60 years after the British left. There was little chance, really, that given the anti-American sentiment in India this deal could garner enough support throughout the nation.

The nuclear deal was ill conceived from the beginning. Many here in the states are concerned that the deal would violate the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty since cooperation on nuclear energy requires a pledge not to develop nuclear weapons. India (along with their rival, Pakistan) is already a member of the nuclear club. The deal also greatly hindered our ability to enforce other nuclear non-proliferation issues through the IAEA and UN Security councils, namely in our diplomatic efforts with Iran and North Korea.

Once one looks under the covers, it becomes obvious that the deal was intended to be a political wedge. India is seen as a useful tool in keeping Pakistan at bay, and increased US-India cooperation is a prelude to the use of Indian bases and airspace once it becomes necessary to deal with the Pakistani problem. Providing nuclear reactors and infrastructure to a nation that experiences several power blackouts daily seems, on the surface at least, a logical choice. It would appear that India was not quite willing to accept the fine print, however.

The problem with the deal, though, is that India is not the US ally that one might think. While they are eagerly accepting US technology jobs, especially in the south, there is a tremendous amount of anti-American sentiment among the people, and even among many of the local regional governments, some of which are communist. India's long history of exploitation at the hands of the west have left them unwilling to become another pawn in the world-wide military theater, and some in the Indian government have rightly seen this nuclear deal for what it truly is.

The deal itself is problematic for the credibility of the US as well. On the one hand, we are condemning Iran and Russia for their cooperation on a very similar deal, right up to the point of imposing economic sanctions and covertly threatening military action in Iran. Then, when it becomes politically convenient, we offer a very similar deal to India, a nation that pursued, developed, and tested nuclear weapons capabilities thus pushing the Indian sub-continent to the brink of war. Something just doesn't add up in that mix.

So it appears India will do what the US Congress should have done in the first place. They will scuttle the deal. They'll do it for the wrong reasons, since ultimately, strong economic ties with the US are in their best interests, but I'm not complaining. I'd rather they make the right decision for the wrong reasons as opposed to plowing ahead with this ill conceived but politically motivated nuclear deal.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Politically Motivated House Cripples Turkish Relations

A US House of Representatives resolution that passed committee last week declaring the 1915 killing of 1.5 million Armenians to be "genocide" is perhaps the most irresponsible move the US Congress has made in years. Given the current state of the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq coupled with unrest along the Turkey-Iraq border, this politically motivated resolution could unravel over a half-century of cooperation between Turkey and the West. (LA Times: Turkish general warns against genocide bill.)

Turkey is naturally outraged over the resolution which Speaker Nancy Pelosi vows will make it to the House floor. Turkey's top General, Yasar Buyukanit said, "If this resolution passed in the committee passes the House as well, our military ties with the U.S. will never be the same again."

Since Turkey is the US and NATO's gateway into the Middle East, that is not an idle threat. 70% of US Air Cargo headed for the Middle East passes through Turkey. One third of the fuel used by the US military in Iraq also passes through Turkey. US bases in Iraq get virtually all of their water and supplies from Turkey, carried into northern Iraq by Turkish truckers. The US military base in Turkey is used to fly C-17 cargo planes into Iraq, thus eliminating the potential for additional casualties by avoiding roads plagued with explosives. That is what Pelosi and company have put at risk with this ill conceived resolution.

So why issue the resolution now? What the Democrats are attempting to do is force the President to change strategies in Iraq, and they are using a NATO ally in the worst way to accomplish it. The loss of Turkey's cooperation in Iraq is precisely what the Democrats hope to achieve since it will severely cripple our ability to prosecute the war. The fact that the damage done to our relationship with a long-standing critical NATO ally will far exceed the time our troops spend in Iraq does not seem to concern them, however.

How convenient for the Democrats, should this ploy actually succeed. They will have crippled US military capabilities in the Middle East for years to come and will likely force the redeployment of US forces throughout Iraq so as to compensate for the lack of supply routes through Turkey. In their minds, they will have shortened the time our troops will be there without getting their hands dirty by overtly cutting off funds as Congress did with Vietnam. How convenient indeed. The reality, though, is this irresponsible Congress has put more American lives at risk and has upset the balance of NATO through their ill conceived resolution.

The resolution, once it comes to the floor, must not pass. Should the left-dominated Congress actually succeed in passing it, escalation of a war between Turkey and the Kurds in northern Iraq becomes all but certain. US casualties will increase in Iraq since our supply routes must now come overland, presumably from Kuwait. Our ability to contain Iran and Syria will likewise be diminished, as will our ability to prosecute the war in Iraq to its fullest. Our relations with Turkey - a key NATO ally - will be forever crippled.

This action on the part of the House is inexcusable, and must certainly be defeated.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Israeli Strike on Syria Sends Message

The Israeli Air Force conducted a raid in Syrian air space last month, apparently targeting a complex believed to be a partially constructed nuclear facility. Shared intelligence between the US and Israel confirmed the existence of the facility, based on a North Korean design and fueling speculation of increased cooperation between Syria and North Korea. For their part, Syria would only confirm the destruction of a facility owned by the military but "currently unoccupied." (Jerusalem Post: Syria raid targeted unfinished reactor.)

According to the latest reports, the US was not in full agreement over the timing of the strike since the reactor was years away from being operational. One Israeli official, however, was quoted as saying the strike was intended to "reestablish the credibility of our deterrent power." Indeed, given the lack of threat posed by the facility in its current state, there can be little doubt that the strike was intended to send a message.

Israel has never permitted another Middle Eastern nation to achieve nuclear capabilities, and it continues to be their policy to act presumptively should any nation attempt to deploy a nuclear technology. The strike in Syria marks the second time Israel has destroyed a nuclear facility, the first being in Iraq in 1981 shortly before the Iraqi facility became operational. The timing of this strike is most curious, however, and should cause us to consider carefully the message Israel is attempting to send.

Syria is not the only country in the Middle East attempting to achieve nuclear capability. Iran, with Russian cooperation, is actively pursuing such a technology, despite opposition by the US, France, and the IAEA. The rare cooperation between France and the US will likely result in additional UN sanctions against Iran, but the signal from Israel is that time is running out for diplomacy. The message Israel sent was clearly intended for the West. Should Iran come close to deploying the technology to refine a weapons grade plutonium, Israel will eliminate the Iranian facilities.

This is not a message to ignore since a diplomatic solution is highly unlikely. A military strike against Iran could have world-wide economic implications. Through their control of the Straits of Hormuz, Iran can effectively halt the flow of oil to the West, something that would have severe consequences in Europe. Any action on the part of Israel must be taken in conjunction with the US and our allies since it will take US air and sea power to maintain the shipping lanes and prevent an oil embargo similar to the one that crippled the US economy in the 1970s. Israel cannot do this alone without causing a major energy crisis.

Unfortunately, it will ultimately be necessary to take military action in Iran. Since Iran has the support of Russia and China, a diplomatic solution cannot succeed. Neither is there sufficient time to impose economic sanctions against Iran since their facilities would be operational before the sanctions could have any meaningful effect. Remember, severe sanctions were imposed against Iraq for 12-years to no avail. Iran may have full nuclear capabilities within a year.

So military action in Iran will happen. The question is whether the US will do what we need to do despite the unpopularity of the decision. Will we lend the air and sea support that will be required or will we force Israel to go it alone? If we choose the latter, be prepared for another 1970s style energy crisis. There truly is only one right course of action in this case. Let's hope we have the wisdom to do what needs to be done.