Archive for June, 2009

Russia Begins Military Exercises Near Georgia

June 30, 2009

Yesterday, the Russia began military exercises near the Russo-Georgian border.  The maneuvers involve more than 8,500 personnel from all of the branches of the armed forces, and they will continue until Monday.  The war games will be the largest Russia has held since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Similar exercises took place shortly before the Russian army invaded Georgia last year and swiftly won the conflict over the status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway Georgian enclaves with close ties to Russia.

Russia has long considered Georgia to be part of its sphere of influence, and in the last few years it has exerted pressure on its neighbor and other countries that were formerly under Russian domination.  Such actions have been a source of tension between Russia and the US, which has established a presence in many former Soviet satellite states since the end of the Cold War.  Some Western officials have advocated granting Georgia NATO membership in order to deter the Russian government from involving itself in Georgia’s internal affairs, and just a few weeks ago NATO held its own exercises there.

Allowing Georgia to join NATO would be a disastrous mistake.  It would be almost impossible for the US and its NATO allies to defend Georgia if Russia invaded again given the logistical problems involved and the ease with which Russia could supply its forces in a country located just across the border.  Expanding NATO into Central Europe after the end of the Cold War was a wise policy decision because it created greater stability in the area, but incorporating Georgia into the alliance would likely have a destabilizing effect in Europe by provoking a forceful response from Russia.  Georgia is not strategically important enough to risk a major war.

Military Coup in Honduras

June 29, 2009

The name of this blog was derived from a Warren Zevon song called “Lawyers, Guns and Money”, which contains the following verse:

Now I’m hiding in Honduras/I’m a desperate man/Send lawyers, guns and money/The shit has hit the fan!

So it would be very apropo for me to discuss the ongoing political crisis in Honduras.

On Sunday morning, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was awakened by military personnel and then forcibly taken to an airbase while still in his pajamas.  From there, a waiting plane took him to Costa Rica where he is still in exile.  The Honduran Congress announced that it received and accepted a letter of resignation from Zelaya, but the ousted president claims he never wrote or signed such a document.  Roberto Michetti, who was serving as the president of the National Congress, has taken over Zelaya’s position.

Prior to the coup, Zelaya had alienated conservative segments of Honduran society with his leftist policies at home and abroad.  He also angered powerful people when he recently called for a national referendum to alter the constitution and get rid of presidential term limits, an act which the Supreme Court said was illegal.  When Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, the head of the armed forces, refused to help organize the referendum Zelaya fired him, but Velasquez was reinstated after the Supreme Court and the Congress declared his ouster unlawful.  The military is politically influential in many Latin American countries, and the Honduran military may have come to see Zelaya as a political threat and decided he needed to be removed from office.

The Obama administration joined the international community in condemning the coup and refusing to recognize the new government.  Nevertheless, some have suggested that the US secretly supported the removal of Zelaya, who has allied with leftist regimes hostile to the US (such as Cuba and Venezuela) and critized some American policies.  The US has military ties with Honduras as it does with many Latin American countries, a fact which conspiracy theorists point to as evidence of US involvement or acquiesence in the putsch. 

Given the history of US involvement in the internal affairs of Latin American countries, it is understandable why some are automatically suspicious whenever a leftist government is overthrown in the region.  However, it is difficult to see why the Obama administration would risk its international standing at this moment in history merely to effect regime change in Honduras, a country with almost no strategic or ideological significance.  It would be much more plausible to blame an attempted coup in Venezuela, an oil rich nation with a vehemently anti-American president who is believed to be supporting communist insurgents in Colombia, on the US (there was a failed coup attempt in Venezuela in 2002 and Washington was accused of being involved).  Like most conspiracy theories, the one about Ameircan involvement in this latest coup is not very credible.

Diplomacy with Iran After the Crackdown

June 26, 2009

Earlier today, President Obama said “There is no doubt that any direct dialogue or diplomacy with Iran is going to be affected by the events of the last several weeks,” referring to the Iranian government’s crackdown on peaceful protesters angry about the perceived fraud surrounding the Jun. 12 elections in the Islamic Republic.

The widely viewed video footage of a young woman bleeding to death after being shot by a government-affiliated militiaman, as well as other acts of violence directed at protesters, elicited outrage and condemnation from Western leaders.

Obama came into office promising to open dialogue with countries that have been hostile to the US, including Iran.  The desire to reach an accord with the Iranians stems largely from the belief among intellegence officials that Iran is close to developing nuclear weapons, a charge that Iranian leaders deny.

Obama will violate his promise to deal with distateful regimes if he suspends diplomatic engagement with Iran because of the recent suppression of dissent.  Obama recently stated that time is of the essence when it comes to negotiations with Iran because its nuclear program is moving forward quickly, an argument that would make disengagement seem foolish.  A diplomatic pause would not improve the situation in Iran, but merely undermine the administration’s efforts to stop nuclear proliferation.

Pulling Out of Iraq’s Cities

June 25, 2009

According to the Status of Forces Agreement between the US and Iraq, American combat troops must leave Iraqi cities by Jun. 30.  So far this year, more than 150 US bases have been closed in Iraq’s urban areas, which is 85 percent of the total.

However, it is uncertain if the Iraqi security forces will be able to maintain order once American troops withdraw to rural areas.  Yesterday, a bomb exploded in a marketplace in Sadr City, killing 76 people and wounding more than 150 four days after US soldiers left the area.  Earlier today, seven bombings occured throughout the country, which suggests that terrorists attacks may soon increase dramatically.  Shiite and Sunni militias could reignite major sectarian conflict and Al Qaeda could have a resurgence if a power vacuum develops when the Iraqi police and military take over sole responsibility for security. 

If violence spirals out of control, the US will be in a very difficult position.  It might be called upon to intervene and reenter the cities to try to reestablish order, or it might have to stand by and watch the Iraqi security forces be defeated much like the South Vietnamese were once US ground forces were removed from their country in the 1970s.

Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki insisted that American soldiers would not be asked to return, saying “We will not ask them [the Americans] to intervene in combat operations related to maintaining public order.”

Whether al-Maliki would adhere to that position if Iraqi cities descended into chaos is doubtful.

The Neda Agha Soltan Video: Broadcasting Death

June 24, 2009

Over the last two days, millions have seen footage of Neda Agha Soltan, a young woman caught up in the ongoing political protests in Iran, bleed to death on websites like YouTube and other media venues.   Below is a link to an interesting op-ed piece about whether or not its appropriate to publicize such images; it was written by Cassandra Jardine and published in the  UK Telegraph.

Personally, I do not think it is inherently inappropriate to broadcast or publish images of violence and death that are politically relevant.  Whether it is a good idea depends on the perspective of the person who is making the decision to do so.  I welcome readers’ comments.