Archive for July, 2009

Break

July 31, 2009

This week I have been busy taking care of an ill friend and preparing to move to a new apartment.  I will resume blogging on Monday.

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Israel and Iran

July 27, 2009

Earlier today, Israeli officials implicitly threatened to attack Iran militarily if the Islamic Republic does not abandon its nuclear weapons program.

During a news conference with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Israelie Defense Minister Ehud Barak said “We clearly believe that no option should be removed from the table.  This is our policy.  We mean it.  We recommend to others to take the same position, but we cannot dictate it to anyone.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a similar line.

According to an official press release from his office, the prime minister, during a meeting with Gates, “reiterated the seriousness which Israel views Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the need to utilize all available means to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear capability.”

The Obama administration, like all American administrations during foreign policy crises, says that all options are on the table, including military action.  But the US appears prepared to press for further economic sanctions against Iran if that nation develops the Bomb rather than a military response. 

Washington seems to have realized that striking Iran would be counterproductive in terms of promoting American interests in the region, including efforts to reach a peace accord between Israel and its Arab neighbors, especially the Palestinians. 

The Israeli government apparently takes a different view, if the statements made by Israeli officials truly reflect their opinions.  If that is the case, it would be unfortunate because Israel need not destroy Iranian nuclear sites to protect itself; Israel’s nuclear arsenal will be a sufficient deterrent against Iran launching a nuclear attack.  It is true that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made inflammatory statements regarding Israel such as saying Israel should be “wiped off the map,” but other leaders during the atomic age have made similar threats, such as Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev’s telling the US “We will bury you,” without following through on them.  Iranian leaders may be anti-Semetic, but they are not suicidal.  As much as they may hate Israel, they do not hate it enough to risk the annihilation of themselves and their people.  Hopefully, Israeli leaders will realize that deterrence still works before launching a foolhardy bombing campaign in a futile effort to put an end to Iran’s nuclear program.

Poppy Eradication in Afghanistan

July 24, 2009

The US is shifting its emphasis from poppy crop eradication to drug interdiction in Afghanistan.  Poppy seeds are the basic component of heroin and opium, and the drug trade accounts for 50 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP and is the largest source of funding for the Taliban insurgency.  Thus far, the eradication programs have failed because they alienated poor farmers who must sell their poppy crops to subsist, and thereby made those farmers hostile towards the Afghan government (and its American allies) and supportive of the Taliban; the programs have also failed to put a major dent in the Taliban’s income. 

In the long term, US officials hope to persuade Afghan farmers to stop growing poppy seeds.  One proposal is to encourage them to grow wheat and flowers.  Another is to pay them not to grow poppy seeds much like the US government pays some tobacco farmers not to grow tobacco.

It is doubtful that officials will be able to convince Afghan farmers to cease growing poppy seeds because the commodity is relatively lucrative vis-a-vis their other economic opportunities.  Moreover, the plan would make one of the poorest countries in the world even poorer and hinder economic development, which Afghan and Western officials believe is critical to defeating the insurgency and creating political stability.

It is also unlikely that drug interdiction programs will be successful if the miserable failure of American efforts to reduce the flow of cocaine from Colombia to the US is any indicator.

The best way for American forces to defeat the Taliban insurgency is to protect the population from the militants and increase the size and competency of the Afghan security forces.  Hopefully, the Afghan army and police will be able to bear the full burden of defending their country within the next decade.

A US Defense Umbrella in the Middle East

July 23, 2009

Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested that the US would extend what is often referred to as a “defense umbrella” or a “nuclear umbrella” over the Middle East if Iran developed nuclear weapons.  This strategic concept entails assuring other countries that the US would retaliate militarily if a hostile nation attacked them with atomic bombs.  The purpose of the policy is to deter other powers from attacking or coercing US allies and to dissuade those allies from developing nuclear weapons of their own, thereby minimizing potentially destabilizing weapons proliferation .  Since the beginning of the Cold War, America has extended its nuclear umbrella over parts of Europe, Asia and Latin America.

During a town hall meeting in Bangkok, Clinton argued that Iran should not pursue nuclear weapons, which Western officials believe the Islamic Republic is doing, by saying “We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment, that if the US extends a defense umbrella over the region…it’s unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer, because they won’t be able to intimidate and dominate, as they apparently believe they can, once they have a nuclear weapon.”

Another important American objective is to reassure US allies in the region, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in particular, and to convince them that they do not need to acquire the Bomb to protect themselves from Iranian aggression.  Many Arab states, which are predominantly Sunni Muslim, perceive Iran, which is predominantly Shiite Muslim, as a rival and a security threat, which is why they might be inclined to counter Iran’s nuclear developments with their own without a security guarantee from the US.

The Obama administration’s umbrella extension policy is unlikely to deter Iran from developing an atomic arsenal, which Iranian leaders apparently believe to be an important strategic asset and a way to deter the US from attacking their country in the future.  However, the strategy might be effective when it comes to limiting nuclear weapons proliferation in the region if history is any indicator.  Thus far, America has dissuaded major powers like Germany, Japan, South Korea, Italy and new NATO members in Eastern Europe from pursing such weapons, and there is no apparent reason why nations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia would not make similar decisions.

Fight Breaks Out in South Korean Parliament

July 22, 2009

Earlier today, a fight broke out in South Korea’s parliament over a media reform bill that would loosen restrictions on ownership of television networks.  Opposition parties attempted to block legislators from the ruling National Party from entering the assembly room by stacking furniture near the entrance to the chamber.  National Party members managed to overcome the obstacles and enter the room, where they successfully passed the bills and precipitated a melee.  Injuries were reported and one woman was taken to the hospital.

This is not the first time that legislative contoversy has resulted in violence among South Korean parliamentarians.  Last year, opposition party members pounded their way into a committee room with sledgehammers in an effort to prevent the ruling party from drafting a bill to ratify a free trade agreement with the US.

Major confrontation is much more prevalent in legislative assemblies in many foreign countries than it is in the American Congress.  Multiple fights have occured in South Korea.  Earlier this year, there was a physical clash between lawmakers in Malaysia.  Scuffles also broke out in Japan and India last year.  In 2007, Turkish lawmakers got in a fistfight, and a Ukrainian politician was attacked by a member of a rival party after complaining about the vote for prime minister.  In 2006, a fight broke out in the Afghan legislature and violence occured in the Iraqi parliament over a politician’s ringtone on her cell phone.  In 2003,  Venezuelan assemblymen came to blows.  These are just a few examples of literal legislative fights.

There have been no serious physical altercations in the US Congress since the 19th century.  The most infamous one occured in the 1850s, when Rep. Preston Brooks beat Sen. Charles Sumner with a cane over the issue of slavery and almost killed him.