Archive for May, 2009

Vacation Notice

May 28, 2009

I will be on vacation for the next 10 days.  I will resume blogging after I return.

North Korea’s Leadership

May 27, 2009

Officials and North Korea-watchers around the world are wondering about the health of Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s reclusive leader.  A photo taken of him two months ago shows him alive but feeble, and American officials believe that he is declining rapidly.  Some observers think that he wants Kim Jong-un, his youngest son, to be his successor, and possibly have Jang Seong-taek, his father-in-law, temporarily serve as regent.

Kim Jong-il’s death could precipitate a power struggle in North Korea that might involve the military.  A civil war might even erupt and the country could descend into chaos, an event which would have serious consequences for other powers.

For this reason, as well as the fact that the North Korean regime could collapse at any moment because of severe economic problems, the US and its partners in East Asia need to develop a coordinated plan regarding what to do if the communist state implodes.  A flood of refugees could pour into China and South Korea, and North Korea’s nuclear facilities might become insecure.  Other countries might have to step in fill the power vacuum and try to reestablish order.  South Korea and China would be the obvious candidates to occupy all or parts of North Korea if anarchy ensues.  It would probably be best for the US and the Koreans  if South Korea became the occupier and eventually unified the Korean Peninsula politically; however, China might oppose having a strong US ally along its border.  What is certain is that nations in the region need to be prepared for such an eventuality so that they will not have to act haphardly when the situation arises.

North Korea Tests Nuclear Device

May 26, 2009

Yesterday, North Korea tested a nuclear device in defiance of international efforts to halt the communist state’s nuclear weapons program.  For many years, the US, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia have tried many different measures to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, including offers of diplomatic recognition, a permanent peace treaty, economic benefits and economic sanctions.  All of these efforts have failed.  And given the fact that airstrikes against the North’s nuclear facilities pose a serious risk of igniting a major military conflict in the region, the US appears to have no options left and therefore must accept the fact that North Korea will likely remain a nuclear state.

In response to the test, the Obama administration is trying to strengthen the Proliferation Security Initiative, an effort to intercept shipments of items related to unconventional weapons at sea, a program which was initiated by the Bush administration in 2003.  However, it appears that North Korea already has enough materials to develop atomic bombs.

At this point, the best thing the US can do is reassure South Korea and Japan, two important allies, that America will defend them if they are attacked by North Korea.  Doing so might prevent Japan from developing nuclear weapons of its own, an act which could provoke an arms race between Japan and China and destabilize East Asia.

A Literal Witch Hunt in Gambia

May 21, 2009

A literal witch hunt is taking place in Gambia, a poor nation in West Africa where belief in sorcery is widespread.  The campaign was orchestrated by Gambia’s eccentric despot, whose official title is His Excellency President Professor Dr. Al-Haji Yahya Jammeh.  In the past he has promoted a herbs-and-bananas “cure” for AIDS, threatened to behead homosexuals and forbidden anyone but him from driving under a giant arch commemorating his coup in Banjul.  He has also arrested, tortured, imprisoned and killed journalists and political opponents.

The witch hunt began in January after Jammeh apparently became concerned that there were sinister sorcerers in his country.  Men wearing red tunics, mirrors and cowrie shells rounded up suspected witches to the accompaniment of drums and transported them to secret locations where the accused were forced to drink a hallucinagen that would supposedly put an end to their witchcraft.  Those who imbided the liquid became sick and some of them died.  Villagers were also forced to sacrifice red he-goats and red roosters in an effort to destroy the so-called evil spirits.  The witch hunt reportedly ended in March.

Note to self: Don’t move to Gambia!

Did Obama Give Israel a Greenlight to Attack Iran?

May 20, 2009

Last night on the Charlie Rose show, journalist Jon Meacham claimed that during a recent interview with President Obama on Air Force One, the president, when asked about the possibility of an Israeli airstrike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, said “It is not my place to judge the security interests of the state of Israel.”

Obama’s comment could easily be construed as giving Israel a greenlight to attack Iran, which Western officials believe is trying to develop atomic weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear program.  Obama’s recent statement that if diplomatic overtures to the Islamic Republic do not bear fruit by the end of the year the US will reconsider its approach to dealing with Iran’s nuclear activities also suggests that his administration might be considering military action if it is deemed necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring the Bomb.

An attack on Iran, whether by Israel or the US, is frought with peril.  It would be difficult to take out all of Iran’s nuclear sites because intelligence officials do not know where all of them are located.  Attacking Iran could inflame anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world and help terrorist groups like Al Qaeda recruit suicide bombers and insurgents for attacks against civilians and military personnel.  An Israeli raid would almost certainly make Arab governments less willing to cooperate with the US, Israel’s main ally, on a number of important issues.

The Iranian regime is also very capable of causing major problems for the US in response to an attack.  Iran has operatives in Iraq who could exacerbate the level of violence there and make it more difficult for the US to withdraw.  Through its proxy Hezbollah, a militant group based in Lebanon, it could sponsor terrorist attacks on Israel and further complicate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; support to Hamas, a militant organization in Palestine, could also be increased.  In addition, Iranian agents could attack US embassies and other places around the world frequented by Americans.

Although Israel, the US and other governments are understandably concerned about the possiblity of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, attacking Iran in an attempt to prevent that scenario from developing would not be worth the costs.